Monthly Wrap Up

Monthly Round-Up: June 2019

Monthly Round-Up: June 2019

Reflections and rambles:

Summer arrived with mild and indifferent weather. WriteMentor got real as I reached halfway through a major redraft and realised I had no idea how to go forward. Talk about cresting a hill to find a mountain. My blogging and creating mojo has been low, although admitting this to people made me aware just how normal these moments are and how they are almost always signals that it is time for self-care.

Out came some old favourite novels and I was soon scribbling away about techniques I wanted to apply to my own work.

That’s June. Sounds underwhelming but sometimes we learn more from those months than we realise.

There was one special moment. I was standing in the front garden and noticed the wildflowers which spring up around this time. They were vibrating. Looking closer, I saw huge numbers of bees gathering pollen. Bee after bee after bee. With numbers of bees in crisis and the environment generally in crisis, it was lovely to see nature hanging on in there. If we allow the wild spaces to thrive, and replace what has been destroyed over the past decades, nature will come back.

What have you been up to this June? Literary or otherwise, I want to hear it.

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Review Round-Up:

 

 

The Wicker Light by Mary Watson

The Cantankerous Molly Darling by Alvy Carragher

Alex In Wonderland by Simon James Green

Maresi Red Mantle by Maria Turtschaninoff

The Paper & Hearts Society by Lucy Powrie

Spies In St Petersburg by Katherine Woodfine

Rumblestar by Abi Elphinstone

The Dragon In The Library by Louie Stowell. Illustrated by Davide Ortu. 

Milton The Mighty by Emma Read

When It Rains by Rassi Narika

There’s A Spider In My Soup by Megan Brewis

The Only Way Is Badger by Stella J Jones and Carmen Saldaña

The Big Stink by Lucy Freegard

I’m Not Grumpy! by Steve Smallman and Caroline Pedler

I thought I saw a … series by Lydia Nichols

The Unworry Book by Alice James

Edvard Munch Love And Angst. Edited by Giulia Bartrum

 

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In other bookish news I … 

 

Watched the Mortal Engines film. 

The series I always wanted filmed and a bar of Dairy Milk Oreo. Happy night in. 

I had concerns about Peter Jackson as director (because the second Hobbit film is 2% derived from the book and 98% spinning it out. And even the road to Mordor can’t be that long) but the plot is relatively faithful to the original and any changes haven’t affected the pace. 

Every single character felt real to the story, especially Anna Fang and Shrike.

Tom and Hester look my age, and it took me until the end of the film to figure out that no, they really weren’t suggesting that actors close to thirty could play teens. In the original series, Tom and Hester are teenagers in the first book and adults in the remaining three. The film series cuts out the years between and presumably alters the timeline. 

The traction cities were everything I had ever dreamed of, and they way details from Old London [or London as we know it] have been incorporated into the great moving beast of a city is quite spectacular. Although I have wanted these films for more years than I can count, I am pleased they were delayed. Any attempt to create them with earlier CGI would have made them redundant pretty quickly.  

It is also a delight to see the books brought to a new generation of readers. 

 

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Bought a storage trolley for my review books.

In the immortal words of the Toy Story crew: NEW TOY.

 

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Just keep writing, just keep writing …

Dived into Writer’s HQ

At the very end of May, I had some exciting news. I was chosen for a Six Month Writer’s HQ bursary, which gives me access to online courses and writing forums.

I haven’t explored these as thoroughly as I would have expected, for various reasons, but I have logged in most evenings for a nose. Everything I’ve learned so far has helped my writing, and the material tells it like it is.  The team behind the courses understand that writing is a hard slog, that sometimes we just need to let it out, but at the end of the day, the only thing that makes it happen is maintained effort. And the odd biscuit.

I’m looking forward to getting into the serious business of working with Plotstormers and Plotstormers 2 to construct a new plot and to pull the two I have into the best shape possible.

 

What have you been up to this June? Any books stand out especially? Let me know in the comments below. Don’t forget to link to your June round-up post or reflections.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Milton The Mighty by Emma Read

Review: Milton The Mighty by Emma Read

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Extract:

‘You and me, Mr Macey. Together we’ll clear this house of invaders.’ 

‘So, you’ll kill them?’

Felicity smoothed down her corduroy skirt.

‘Every. Last. One.’ 

At this point, Milton stopped having thoughts altogether. He went cross-eyed, eight different ways, and fainted.

(Milton The Mighty by Emma Read. P30.)

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Synopsis:

When spider Milton discovers he has been branded deadly by a popular internet story, he realises his life is in peril. His house human has a phobia of spiders and will go to any length to destroy them, which makes him an easy target for Felicity Thrubwell whose pest control business thrives on fear.

Milton’s only hope is to prove he is not a deadly spider. Luckily he has help. Milton’s eight-legged friends are on board, and so is the younger human Zoe. Together they set out to straighten out the facts.

But will that be enough to stop Felicity Thrubwell?

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Review:

A story about a little spider with a big heart. Milton’s quest to clear his name and save spider-kind is the sort of animal tale I loved when I was small. Dick King-Smith was one of my favourite childhood authors, and this reminds me of his work. It has the same mix of charm and resilient characters, with up to date technology.

Milton’s campaign for justice is balanced with a whole load of creepy crawly fun.

The theme couldn’t be more relevant to our times. Milton has always had trouble from some humans, but a piece of viral internet content turns the whole world against him. And it’s just not true. Milton isn’t a killer spider. Emma Read resists an anti-internet stance. Instead the book shows that the internet can be used for good or bad and that we must trust our own judgement and knowledge.

Zoe is a wonderful character. She’s having trouble at school because she just refuses to cave into the anti-spider hype. She knows better. It is good to see a role model who sticks to her principles and is determined to make a change. Like Greta Thunberg, the young climate activist who has turned heads and opinions, Zoe knows that making a change isn’t about being big or special. It’s about being unafraid to get your message out.

This is also a book about friendship and the power of changing our habits. Fears and actions can be ingrained. It takes kindness and understanding – not anger – to help people change their ways.

A fantastic story with two heroes (a spider and a girl) whose resilience, determination and kindness make them perfect role-models to us all.

 

Thanks to Chicken House Books for my gifted copy. Opinions my own.

 

 

 

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Nell & The Circus Of Dreams by Nell Gifford & Briony May Smith

Review: Nell & The Circus Of Dreams by Nell Gifford & Briony May Smith

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When Nell’s chicken friend runs away, it leads her to the circus of her dreams.

A circus family welcomes Nell and introduces her to the lights and music and magic tricks of their show. After the circus packs up and Nell goes home, the circus fades from her memory like a dream, but all through the summer and into the summers beyond she plays her own circus games in the back garden.

Partly based on the memories of Nell Gifford, from Gifford’s circus, the setting brings to life the magic of a traditional circus. Being among the animals and the music and the traditional caravans are enough to bring anyone’s imagination to life. In this story, a young girl’s games are given a new lease of life after visiting the circus.

There is something folksy and beautiful about the illustrations, from the field of wildflowers to the circle of wooden caravans. It invokes a strange kind of nostalgia – a nostalgia for a life most of us have never lived. Of course, this can make us yearn for a different world, and Nell does exactly this when the circus goes. She finds it in little pockets, though. In her games and in her back garden.

The illustrations are full of a golden light and beautiful textures. They bring back romanticised memories of childhood summers and remind us of the magic of our dreams. A double-page spread of the circus in action is so beautiful, it is possible to stare at it for hours. These are pictures which bring to life all our senses. I could hear the music and feel the soap bubbles popping beside my cheeks.

A real treat of a story and one of those books which demands to be reread and treasured.

 

Thanks to Oxford University Press for my gifted copy of Nell And The Circus Of Dreams. Opinions my own.

blog tour

Blog Tour: Kingsbane by Claire Legrand

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About Kingsbane. 

Sun Queen Rielle is touring the kingdom when a request for help arrives from a neighbouring kingdom. Upon investigation, it turns out Rielle is the only person who can help. The Gate which keeps most of the angels at bay is falling. To repair it, Rielle must collect the hidden castings of the saints who constructed the gate. The castings are hidden across the kingdom.

She must also overcome the temptations of angel Corien.

Centuries later, Sun Queen Eliana fears corruption and becoming another Rielle. Eliana is supposed to be humanity’s saviour, yet she is the daughter of the woman who put the world in peril. As Eliana grapples with her identity, her friend Navi is in increasing danger. Her transformation into a crawler is progressing.

Eliana learns of a way to help Navi, but she will only be able to do it if she takes ownership of her powers.

Kingsbane second book in an epic fantasy trilogy. Think big world, big plot and a huge number of questions.

As in the first book, the story is told in a dual narrative. Rielle lives in a time of magic. The angels who have been held at bay are breaking through into the world. Rielle is succumbing to the temptations of the Angel Corien and her actions will lead to downfall.

Eliana lives centuries later when magic is viewed as a myth and Angels are in control of the world. Without any spoilers, her mother’s legacy is such that Eliana is uncertain whether she can be the person to save the world. 

The worldbuilding is as complex and believable as any fantasy I’ve read and I love Eliana’s unique perspective. Living in a time when the story of Rielle is a legend, you would think Eliana has an advantage, but her personal backstory and ties leave her unable to see past that legacy. 

Although the story is dark, there are strong romances and friendships which keep us invested in the characters. 

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Giveaway:

Thanks to the lovely people at Midas PR, I have a copy of Kingsbane to giveaway. Check out my Twitter page for more information. UK and Ireland only. Giveaway ends at 11.59pm 28.05.2019. 

 

Thanks to Midas PR for my ARC of Kingsbane. Opinions my own. 

 

 

 

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Slow Samson by Bethany Christou

Review: Slow Samson by Bethany Christou

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Samson the sloth is slow. He is invited to a lot of parties, but the trouble is by the time he gets there he is hours too late. He misses out on everything. Sorry to always miss his friends, he becomes unhappy, but Samson’s friends have a plan. The next time there is a party, they put the wrong time on his invite to give him an extra two hours to get there. 

A lovely story about friendship and the benefits of adjusting to meet everyone’s needs. 

Too often, when we plan, we plan for the majority. The able. What about the people who just can’t meet certain criteria? Be it a tricky time, an inaccessible place or a set of instructions which someone finds difficult to follow, there are so many reasons why one or two people in a group might be left behind. 

When we ask them to fulfill the same criteria as the majority, they end up exhausted. Poor Samson tries and tries to get to those parties, and sometimes he even makes the end, but he’s tired out from the dash, miserable to have failed yet again and out of the loop with what’s happening. What should we do? Accuse him of not trying? But Samson does try. Tirelessly. 

Samson’s friends know better. They tweak his invitation so that he gives himself extra time to get there. 

The ending shows how happy the group is to be together. All together. No exclusion.  

A cute story about a slow sloth and a string of parties also shows us that it can take a bit of extra thinking to meet the needs of a whole group. 

Use of colour shows how miserable Samson feels on his own, and how happy everyone is to enjoy the party at the end.

 A lovely story with a big heart. 

 

Thanks to Templar Books for my gifted copy of Slow Samson. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Suitcase by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros

Review: The Suitcase by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros

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A stranger arrives one day with nothing but a suitcase. When the animals ask what is inside, the stranger gives an impossible list. He says there is a broken teacup, a table and chair, and a hut on the mountainside. Tired from his journey, he falls asleep. The animals are so keen to find out the truth that they break open the suitcase. When they see what is inside, they question their behaviour and ask what they should do to make the exhausted stranger welcome. 

The Suitcase is, without question, my new favourite picture book about empathy and compassion. 

With the world in crisis and the number of displaced people rising, there have been a number of stories which explain the situation to very young children. There are some fantastic ones. The trouble is, below a certain age, how much can children understand about war? How much information is too much? 

The Suitcase pitches the story perfectly for children who are not yet ready to talk about war. It talks about a suitcase, a journey, and the reception at the other end. Should we greet exhausted people with hostility and suspicion, or should we greet them with a cup of tea and friendship? Even readers who don’t understand where ‘the stranger’  came from or why he is tired can understand the question posed by the text. 

It is also a fabulous story for older readers. Clues in the text hint tell some of the backstory and the reader can use their own knowledge to question where the stranger came from. 

The way the animals behave, combing over the items in the suitcase, could be metaphorical of the way people’s life stories are questioned and examined upon their arrival in a new country. It opens some gentle conversation about whether this is fair. How much information should people be forced to share and what might they want to keep private? Why might the few belongings they have left be precious? The story helps the reader to empathise by introducing different questions about how somebody might feel in this situation. 

The other interesting point is how the lizard [I think the new arrival is a lizard] is called ‘the stranger’ by the narrator. Stranger is a word we use to mean person we don’t know but at the same time it automatically implies suspicion and hesitation on our part. Is the new arrival a stranger? How else could he be seen? By questioning their own behaviour, the animals in the story discover a whole new way to think about the new arrival. 

With different coloured fonts for every animal in the story, this would be a lovely book to act out. The illustrations are wonderful too, with the animals’ facial expressions changing over the course of the story as they question their own reactions and become better friends to the new arrival. 

A wonderful story which encourages empathy and compassion to displaced people. This apparently simple tale about a suitcase, a journey and a group of friends deserves to become a classic.  

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow for my gifted copy of The Suitcase. Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Odd Science – Spectacular Space by James Olsen

Review: Odd Science – Spectacular Space by James Olsen

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Did you know that NASA astronauts have grown plants in space? That the highest mountain known to mankind is on an asteroid? That the centre of a comet is made of ice? This book is filled with fascinating facts about the world beyond our planet.

A contents page divides the book into different facts although the sections are not divided. This could be flicked through or consulted for facts on one subject, although I think its strength is in the former. It’s striking, retro-style illustrations catch the reader’s interest and make it impossible to resist finding out more. 

With one or two facts on every page, limited to a few short lines of text, this is the perfect book to foster an early interest in space and physics. 

The book covers facts about space itself – about planets and asteroids and gravity – but it is high on human activity in space and the advances made by space science. With the 50th anniversary of the moon landing taking place this year, there has never been a better time to read up on this topic. 

The restricted colour palette and use of block colour backgrounds gives the illustrations a  pop-art feel, although the humour in them brings them right up to date. They would translate into beautiful posters and it is impossible not to stop and look closer when flicking through the book.

 

Thanks to Catherine Ward PR and Pavillion Books for my gifted copy of Odd Science – Spectacular Space. Opinions my own.