Young Adult Reviews

Review: The Survival Game by Nicky Singer

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Synopsis:

This boy is not my responsibility

Resources are running out. Many countries have pledged that their citizens will only live until the age of 74 to preserve resources for as many people as possible. Years can be gifted from one person to another and criminals pay their sentence in life years. This is the world Mhairi lives in.

Mhairi has walked across continents. Since the thing that happened at the checkpoint, the thing she cannot think about, Mhairi has been set on one thing – survival. She has reached the Scottish border, but everything has changed since she was last here. There are checkpoints and detention centres and border patrols. There are crowds of displaced people looking for the same thing – a place where they can survive.

A young boy needs Mhairi’s help. He is an illegal, an alien,  and joining up with him will make Mhairi’s journey more difficult. He’s not her responsibility … is he?

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Review:

An exceptional piece of work which will make you look at the world a different way. The Survival Game poses a question. People in Britain are used to hearing about displaced people on television. What if we became the displaced – and how long before it happens?

Mhairi is fourteen, but she is not fourteen as we know it. She has crossed continents and fought for food and survived things so traumatic that she can’t think about them. She keeps those memories locked inside her ‘castle’ – the mental fortress she has built in her head in order to survive. Her voice is distinctive and harrowing. There are children in our world living Mhairi’s life. There are children in our world who are traumatised and desperate and prepared to do whatever it takes to survive. This is not a voice you will forget.

I kept turning the pages. I kept reading. There wasn’t any question of putting the book down because I had to know what happened to Mhairi and the boy she called Mo.  

The story is set in the near future. In my lifetime. It’s proximity to the present makes its messages more chilling. This is a world where people have become so desperate they have lost all sense of humanity. There are too many people without resources. Instead of working to reverse the problem, those who have everything they need become defensive. They fight to protect what they have. To keep enough for themselves and their close family. The most frightening thing is this dystopia has already begun.

Following Mhairi – who, for all her protestations, is unable to see the little boy as a problem beyond her control, as a statistic, enables the reader to think about their own attitudes. If we want to leave the world in a better state than this we need to act. Fast.

This novel is exceptional in several ways – first in its craft. If this isn’t on several major prize lists next year there is no justice in the world. The voice is exceptionally strong, and the story opens the reader to empathy towards other human beings. On a big scale. I’m not going to pretend this is a cheerful read but it is compelling. This is a book we should celebrate.   

 

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Middle Grade Reviews · Young Middle Grade

Round-Up: Younger Midde-Grade Fiction – July 2018

img_6102Seaview Stables – The Pony With No Name by Tracey Corderoy 

A short and sweet story for pony-mad readers.

Bryonny has moved house and wants to make some new friends. While exploring the woods, she meets a beautiful Bay pony. She and the pony make an instant connection. Bryonny responds to an advert calling for someone to help with a pony. She is delighted to find it is the same pony, but the pony’s owner is less than happy. Georgina has a reputation as a bully. She doesn’t care about the pony and she isn’t going to let Bryonny help. Can Bryonny help the little pony find a loving home?

I loved the connection between Bryonny and the pony (who she nicknames Red), and the friendships Bryonny makes around the village. There is some interesting exploration of settling down and being new to a place. The village has an old-fashioned feel – think vintage cars and summer fetes and pony-rides. It is a sweet, nostalgic story and the setting will make a lovely series.

 

img_6006Buttercup Sunshine And The Zombies Of Doom by Colin Mulhern

It’s a perfect day in Briar’s Cove, except for the hoard of zombies walking down the road. Granny Fondant and Buttercup Sunshine must investigate what has happened. Armed with a chainsaw, huge mugs of tea and a talking toad, the pair investigate why their neighbours have turned into zombies.

This is hilarious. Think Scooby-Doo – comedy-horror and a young detective. Every time I saw the zombies I burst out laughing. Sunshine Buttercup (the lovely little girl who happens to be holding a chainsaw) and Granny Fondant are a brilliant duo. The ending will leave you wanting to know what happens next. This would be lovely for new readers and would be particularly good for older children with a lower reading level because it has a wide age appeal.

 

img_6246Magical Kingdom Of The Birds – The Sleepy Hummingbirds by Anne Booth 

Maya’s big sister is going to university. She gives Maya a present – a colouring book called Magical Kingdom Of Birds. The book transports Maya to a magical kingdom where she is greeted by fairy Willow as the new Keeper of the Book. Unfortunately, the Kingdom is under the grip of the evil Lord Astor. Lord Astor has enchanted the hummingbirds’ nectar. His plan is to capture and cage the hummingbirds. Can Maya and Willow save the day?

This series has a beautiful feel, from the glittery cover to the borders to the colouring pages inside the jacket. The setting is beautiful too – think fairies and flowers and riding on the back of a giant magpie called Patch. The writing is fantastic – every chapter builds the story just enough to keep the reader hooked. I recommend this series and will look out for the second book.

 

img_6292My Rotten Stepbrother Ruined Cinderella by Jerry Mahoney

Maddie’s stepbrother Holden is the most obnoxious boy in the whole world. Why did he have to ruin her report? Even if some of his questions were valid – how did Cinderella get home from the ball? Is shoe size a reliable way to identify someone? If the prince loved her so much, why didn’t he remember her face?

Maddie and Holden find themselves in the world of Cinderella, in the aftermath of the ball, but all is not happily-ever-after. One of the Wicked Stepsisters is about to be crowned queen, Cinderella is shut in the dungeon and Darreth, Duke of Darkness has brought disease and hardship to the land. If Cinderella doesn’t escape the dungeon, she can’t marry the prince. 

Can Maddie and Holden work together to fix the story?

A humorous and lively adventure. This is like Gregory McGuire or Marissa Meyer for young readers and is the start of a Middle-Grade series which we totally need to bring over to the UK. I will be writing more about these during Panto season because I think they would make lovely stocking fillers children off to see a pantomime. 

 

img_6399Animal Ark – Kitten Rescue by Lucy Daniels 

Amelia and her Mum move following Mum’s divorce. Living with Gran in Welford is nice, but it doesn’t feel like home. Amelia misses York and has no idea how she will make friends. Then a miscreant puppy runs in front of a car, and Amelia discovers the community around Animal Ark vets. 

This first adventure in the new series introduces us to Amelia and Sam and reintroduces characters from the old series who have grown up several years. It also follows the fate of a litter of kittens and Sam’s cheeky puppy, Mac. 

At risk of giving away my age, I grew up with Animal Ark. Book club at school meant buying the latest installment. There were Kittens in the Kitchen, Owls in the Office, and enough other animals to satisfy a small child whose life’s ambition was – and still is – to head a sanctuary. There is a huge amount of snobbery around books like Animal Ark which are devised and written by a team of authors, but I think they form a big part in many children’s discovery of reading. Bonding with a favourite character is the best way to get children enthusiastic about visits to the library, and I for one am delighted to see Animal Ark return for a new generation. 

 

Thank you to the publishers and authors who sent copies of the featured books for review. Opinions my own. 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Time School – We Will Remember Them by Nikki Young

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Extract:

People don’t often notice their surroundings, especially when they’re in a hurry. That morning, none of the four friends stopped to question why there was a Shire horse and carriage waiting outside the station … 

(Time School by Niki Young. P12.) 

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Synopsis:

Jess and her friends are running late for school. Their train gets them to school but not as they know it. They have gone back in time to 1918 – to the time of WW1. Why them? Jess feels the key to understanding what they must do lies with that question. She befriends a girl called Martha and makes a connection with her. There is something she needs to tell Martha.

An engaging time-slip about exploring our connection to the past.

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Review:

A short and engaging story about a group of children who visit the past. Jess and her friends are a likable and friendly group who see their situation as an opportunity to experience the past first-hand. They witness the differences between life today and in 1918, and they are humbled by Martha’s living conditions. I loved how this tour of the past focused in on local history – the school grounds, the housing and the railway all look different in the past.

Martha explains what it is like to have family on the war front. I loved Martha. Hearing about the war from the viewpoint of a character can make it easier to imagine than seeing it as a list of facts. This book certainly does a good job of helping children to empathise with people from the past, and Niki Young’s descriptions brought the setting right into my head.

I appreciate this review is short but is difficult to say too much more without spoilers. This would be a lovely read for fans of Charlotte Sometimes, Evie’s Ghost and similar time-slip novels. It would also be a great book to use during projects about WW1. The author’s website says the book with be part of a series. I’m really excited to hear this and hope to see it evolve into something like the My Diary series which was around in my childhood.

 

Thanks to Anne Cater for organising the blog tour and for my copy of Time School. Opinions my own.

 

 

Lifestyle · Round-Up

Wishlist: Literary Mugs

Confession time. I have a cupboard full of mugs, a box full of mugs and mugs acting as pencil holders. That doesn’t stop me from buying another. Print something I love on the front and I’m a sucker. 

One thing I’m short of is bookish mugs. I have a Shakespeare mug from when I won the English prize at secondary school but one hardly does justice to my infatuation with the printed word. It seems a pity, especially because reading goes hand-in-hand with tea-drinking. (Well. Mug in one hand. Book in the other.) 

A quick scout of the internet brought up literary gold. Here is my literary mug wishlist. (And a unicorn, because people who read books believe in unicorns.) Do you have any literary mugs? What do you drink when you are reading? Let me know in the comments below. 

 

(L-R, Top to bottom – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory * The Secret Garden * Penguin Books * Unicorn * Literary Cats * Library Slip * Books * Moomin * Alice * Reepicheep

waiting on wednesday

Waiting On Wednesday: The Light Between Worlds by Laura Weymouth

light-between-worlds-website-678x1024Synopsis (from Chicken House Books)

 

Six years ago in wartime London, sisters Evie and Philippa were transported to a magical realm where they became woodland queens. Now, returned to the real world, they must come to terms with more ordinary lives.

For Evie, it’s unbearable. A patchwork girl, pieced together from pain and longing, she dreams of the whispering trees and a daisy-chain crown.

For Philippa, it’s a relief – until her sister goes missing.

As the weeks unfold, Philippa must discover if Evie crossed safely between worlds or if the light was too bright – and she fell.

A mesmerising, dual narrative YA fantasy; The Magicians meets The Chronicles of Narnia.

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Why I can’t Wait to read The Light Between Worlds: 

 

The Light Between Worlds addresses a question left unanswered by one of my favourite books. The Chronicles of Narnia are among my all-time favourites. In The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe, four children disappear from their own world and become rulers in the land of Narnia. They remain for years, but when they return to England no time has passed at all. Neither this story nor Prince Caspian, explains how the Pevensie children cope with the transformation from great rulers back into school children in wartime Britain. 

I am excited to read about another magical woodland realm. These are the lands of my daydreams, the worlds to which I am constantly drawn in both my reading and my writing. 

The sisters react differently to their situation. I’m intrigued about what sort of conflict this causes after their return. I also want to know how they fared during their time in the magical realm. Did one do better than the other?

What happened to Evie? What does the synopsis mean by if she fell and does anyone know what happens to people who fall? There are so many questions. How can anybody not be intrigued? 

 

The Light Between Worlds by Laura Weymouth

Chicken House Books

October 2018

Chat · Young Adult Reviews

Floored blog tour: ‘It’s grim up North’

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Floored is a collaborative novel written between seven young adult authors. The story is told by six characters and a narrator. This post is about wealthy, inconsiderate Hugo. Hugo is one of my favourite characters in the novel because he personifies an issue which has become apparent in recent years – the contempt held by the metropolitan elite for the working class outside of London.

Hugo’s opening line – It’s grim up North – is a snapshot of his character. He believes that people begrudge his privilege because they can’t be bothered to work for it themselves. He has no understanding of opportunity or inequality. Things go downhill as Hugo treats one of the girls as a cheap one-night stand.

 It’s grim up North is where Hugo starts. A cliché which he has never bothered to challenge because it doesn’t affect his life. This is where Hugo starts- but Floored is a story, and stories begin with a promise that our protagonist will not be the same person by the end. All stories, at their heart, are about transformation. Hugo may be entitled and arrogant and cruel but he isn’t content. The way he lives gives him no pleasure.

I hope people reading Floored will take note of Hugo’s disdain and start to see his attitude in other places. In the politicians who take photo-ops in deprived cities at election times then fail to provide the jobs and infrastructure those cities desperately need. In the national newspapers which continually pitch their work to a metropolitan middle-class readership. In the public-school educated television personalities who make jokes at the expense of working-class Northerners.

 

Catch everyone in my Floored group blog tour: 

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Young Adult Reviews

Review: A Sky Painted Gold by Laura Wood

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Extract:

What else was out there for me? The thought of leaving, of somehow making my own path, seemed a daunting impossibility. I was the follower, not the leader, and I truly had no idea where to go next. The Cardew House – even in its dilapidated state – felt like an answer.

(A Sky Painted Gold by Laura Wood.)

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Synopsis:

Summer 1929. Lou’s sister has married, and now seventeen-year-old Lou is under pressure to do the same. Lou isn’t ready to marry. She wants one glorious golden summer of freedom before she thinks about her future.

The Cardew House has stood empty for as long as Lou can remember. She trespasses, eating apples from the trees and reading detective novels from the library. Now the Cardew family are home and all eyes are on young Robert Cardew and his American fiancée.

Lou befriends Robert and his sister Caitlin, and her summer is filled with parties, but can a farmer’s daughter remain friends with aristocrats in a world obsessed with social division?

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Review:

A brilliant and beautiful book reminiscent of I Capture The Castle and the works of Daphne Du Maurier. If you love big house novels set in the inter-war years, this is a must.

The first word which comes to mind is atmosphere. Laura Wood captures the atmosphere of the era. Think swinging parties and smokey jazz-bars and obsession with the upper-classes. She also captures the protagonist’s age. Lou is on the cusp of adulthood and wants to enjoy her youth. She is thinking about the future but not ready to live adult life. She alternates from very mature feelings to very childish ones at a second’s notice. Anyone who remembers being sixteen or eighteen will remember both wanting the future and wishing it would never come.

I adore the relationships. There is the sibling relationship between Alice and Lou, which is being renegotiated in light of Alice’s marriage and emerging adulthood. Robert Cardew is protective of his little sister Caitlin, and wants to do right by her but can’t see beyond society’s expectations of the upper-classes. Then there are the other relationships – the marriage of convenience between Robert and Laurie and the flirtations between Lou and wealthy bore Charlie. Other relationships shift and emerge over the course of the story. I found myself caring desperately about the outcome.

This is the story of a girl given a taste of a world to which she doesn’t belong. It is also about renegotiating what we thought we knew about society and about other people. It is pure escapism and the writing is exceptional. I can’t wait to get my paws on Laura Wood’s middle-grade detective novels. After reading A Sky Painted Gold, I want to read every word she has written.

 

Thanks to Scholastic UK for my arc of A Sky Painted Gold. Opinions my own.