Middle Grade Reviews

Review: A Sprinkle Of Sorcery by Michelle Harrison.

Review: A Sprinkle Of Sorcery by Michelle Harrison.

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Extract:

Betty took it, her heart beginning to beat fast again, but this time it was with excitement rather than with fear. She unfolded the paper carefully, but even as she did so she knew it was a map. Hand-drawn in black ink, with a decorative nautical star in the corner. 

(A Sprinkle Of Sorcery by Michelle Harrison. P72.) 

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Synopsis:

The Poachers Pocket is on the market and Betty Widdershins is desperate for her family to leave Crowstone. Then, one night, the prison bell tolls, and a mysterious girl arrives on the doorstep, accompanied by marsh wisp.

Willow escaped the prison island with her mother. Her father has been imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. Then Charlie is kidnapped in Willow’s place, and the people who have her aren’t even who they claim to be.

The clue to freeing her, and saving Willow’s family, lies in an old map, a secret island, and a folk tale about three brothers.

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Review:

The Widdershins are back. Their pinch of magic this time is matched by a folk tale about three brothers who were faced with a sprinkle of sorcery. With escaped prisoners, pirates and a magical island, this has all the ingredients of a fantastic tale.

Betty Widdershins takes Willow in at a great cost. Her own sister, Charlie, is kidnapped, and their granny is endangered by the same people who take Charlie. This constantly challenges Betty, as she battles with her consciene and the ultimate question – should she give up one child to guarantee the security of another? It is impossible to stop turning the pages as the stakes for everyone get higher and higher.

This exceptionally popular series introduces some new characters. There’s the ethereal Willow herself, who washes up in the night like a Dickensian waif. She’s tougher than she first appears, though, and this is what offers hope that the injustice that sees her father in desperate trouble will be reversed. Then there is Sniff. Sniff is introduced halfway through the book. He’s a pirate, right, tough as they get … except there’s more to Sniff’s story, too, than it first seems. There are also cats. Cats in all their glory.

Alongside the main story runs a folk tale about three brothers: Fortune, Luck, and Hope. Initially, it builds like any moralistic narrative. Fortune blunders his choices, valuing wealth over the right things. Luck has kinder values, but the wrong approach. Then things get interesting – because fairytales, as every reader knows, have at least some basis in real events, and real events are tied to specific locations.

This understanding of the relationship between place, narrative and real events underpins the series. Harrison’s Essex marshes begin with the real Essex marshes and a real folktale. Where that story originated from, of course, is left to speculation. The tales of the Widdershins sisters read exactly like that imaginative narrative. That if three magical sisters once lived on an island in the Essex marshes, then maybe they owned three magical objects … and with Harrison’s confident storytelling, it is possible to believe that those sisters are real people.

Michelle Harrison’s adventures promote a sense of wonder in the world. They are not only excellent narratives, but they leave the reader ready to embrace life and all the adventures it holds. A Sprinkle Of Sorcery is a triumph, and the Widdershins sisters are already listed among the greatest families of children’s literature.

 

Thanks to Simon and Schuster UK LTD for sending a proof copy ahead of publication. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

Blog Tour: Michelle Harrison, author of ‘A Pinch Of Magic’, talks about curses in folklore.

Blog Tour: Michelle Harrison, author of A Pinch Of Magic, talks about curses in folklore.

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Author Michelle Harrison with a copy of ‘A Pinch Of Magic’. 

About A Pinch Of Magic

Betty Widdershins longs to leave the family home on the island of Crowstone and explore the world. Crowstone is bleak and oppressive with its marshes and tower and prison and Betty is certain there must be more to the world. Then she learns that she and her sisters are bound by an ancient family curse to stay on the island for the rest of their lives …

I have been a fan of Michelle Harrison’s work for years. Her novels combine the folklore and old traditions which I knew and loved as a listener of folk music with page-turning adventures. A Pinch Of Magic is no exception. To read my full review, click here. 

I wanted to hear more about the curse which inspired the story, and what draws Michelle Harrison to folklore. She has not only answered those questions, but she has also made me think more deeply about what the curse in her story meant to its caster. 

Thank you to Michelle Harrison for your time. 

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Curses in Folklore by Michelle Harrison 

Folklore has featured in every book I’ve written to date, whether it’s wishing, witches, or ways of protection against malevolent fairies. As a horror-loving teenager I was obsessed with folklore in its modern form of urban legends. I was also terribly superstitious – something I’ve managed to get under control over the past few years, although it’s still an effort not to salute solitary magpies!

The concept for A Pinch of Magic came from the Essex village of Canewdon. It’s said that there will always be six witches there, and whenever one dies a stone falls from the church walls. The thought of stones falling out of an ancient building to warn of approaching death was something I found incredibly eerie, and evolved into the idea of a family curse. In my story, Betty Widdershins learns of the curse on her thirteenth birthday: no Widdershins girl can ever leave the island of Crowstone. If they do, they’ll die by the next sunset. Along with her sisters, Fliss and Charlie, Betty sets out to break the curse with the help of three magical items which have also been passed down the family: a hand mirror, a set of nesting dolls, and an old carpet bag. But are the objects enough to help them, or will they lead to more trouble?

It’s easy to understand the enduring appeal of a curse within a story. Many of us believe in luck, and we’ve all had times when it seems nothing more can go wrong or, conversely, we’re having such a run of good fortune we start to worry that it’s all about to crash down around us. The idea of curses plays on our fears; what if there are forces we can’t control working against us? Or, more frighteningly, someone who wishes us harm? We know the intent to curse is real enough – witch ladders and wax figures in museums all over the country are proof of the malevolent workings of dismissed servants and spurned lovers.

With our childhoods steeped in tales of spinning wheels and pricked fingers, it’s no wonder curses are rooted in our consciousness. Yet perhaps there’s another reason we find them so fascinating, even if we don’t like to admit it; they feed our desires for good old revenge – and gossip. Because curses aren’t thrown around lightly. There’s usually a reason, whether its jealousy, rivalry, or payback. When I created the Widdershins curse, I knew what it was, but not why – or with whom – it had begun. I only knew it would have come from a serious grudge against the family, and as I unpicked the knots and worked it all out the lines between villain and victim blurred. As Betty discovers, the wicked witch is not always what she’s made out to be, and perhaps anyone is capable of casting a curse, given the right motivation . . .

Check out the other stops on the tour: 

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Thank you to Simon And Schuster UK for arranging this piece as part of a promotional blog tour and for providing me with a proof of the book. Opinions remain my own.

 

 

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: A Pinch Of Magic by Michelle Harrison

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Synopsis:

Betty Widdershins longs to leave the family home on the island of Crowstone and explore the world. Crowstone is bleak and oppressive with its marshes and tower and prison and Betty is certain there must be more to the world. Then she learns that she and her sisters are bound by an ancient family curse to stay on the island for the rest of their lives.

That isn’t the only magic in the Widdershins family. Three magical objects have been passed down the family for generations – a carpet bag, a mirror and a set of nesting dolls. The sisters inherit one object each and with them, they gain a pinch of magic.

Betty is determined to break the curse but to do that she must unravel certain mysteries – who is the mysterious prisoner Granny has been visiting in prison? Do the special objects contain enough magic to help break the curse? Who was the witch who cursed the family and began all this in the first place?

An atmospheric and timeless fairy tale.BBD35E74-4B7A-46CA-8F8F-0E29FC08A586Review:

An ancient curse. Three objects with a specific and special magic. A spooky prison island. Three sisters whose desires pull them in different directions. This story has all the ingredients of a great tale and Michelle Harrison brings them together as only a true storyteller can.

I have loved Harrison’s work since I first read The Thirteen Treasures almost ten years ago. With black cats and quaint place names and references to folk customs, the settings are straight after my own heart. She’s also a great writer. Her plots keep the reader turning the pages will her prose ensures they savour every word. A Pinch Of Magic is no exception. It will delight old fans and new readers. The setting is particularly evocative – the misty marshlands and the three islands. Repent (which houses the prison), Lament (where the dead are buried) and Torment (which is out of bounds to all but the exiled.) The thought of looking across the water and seeing those islands is enough to give anyone chills.

The three sisters – Betty, Fliss and Charlie – are distinct and memorable characters. Each one has a strong voice and we very quickly learn what they want and how they are likely to react in any given situation. Charlie particularly is a treasure. She’s the youngest and she demands to be heard, even if it goes against her older sisters’ plans. She is the voice of little sisters everywhere, and even those of us who have grown up until we are practically the same age as our siblings will smile with recognition.

The readers learn about the Widdershins family history along with Betty, Fliss and Charlie until we find out how the curse came to be. I love it when a strand of the story builds up to a full understanding of historical events. The story concerns two sisters, Sorsha and Prue, and their desperation to leave the island of Torment.

A Pinch Of Magic is a book full of wonder. I was up into the small hours to see the heroines through to the final pages. A must-read for fans of fantasy and adventure.

 

To meet the heroines of this story and to share their very special gingerbread recipe, click here. 

 

A Pinch Of Magic is available 07.02.2019 from Simon And Schuster UK. Thanks to Simon And Schuster UK for my proof copy. 

 

 

 

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 especially 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 mirror, 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 recipe. 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. 

Q and A/Author Interview

Dream Christmas Cracker – Author Michelle Harrison

 

91btlu-xnvlI love a trilogy, I love fairytales and folk legends. Michelle Harrison’s trilogy about a girl who can see fairies is one of my all-time favourites. Author of six novels, you can find one of her short stories in Winter Magic. Published in paperback for the first time, it brings some of the finest British children’s authors working today. I love how widely one starting point has been interpreted. Michelle Harrison’s story is linked to her stand-alone novel The Other Alice. 

I am excited to welcome Michelle to my blog, to tell you about her dream Christmas Cracker. 

 

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If you could create a cracker:

 

Would there be a joke inside? What would it be, or what would you have in place?

I’m not a fan of cracker jokes, they’re usually too corny for me. Instead, I’d have something like a mini book quiz, or a silly talking point like ‘Would you rather have reindeer antlers for a month, or a Rudolph red nose for a week?’ My family and I make up a lot of  ‘Would You Rathers’ and it keeps us entertained for hours! Or, if I were at a writers’ Christmas dinner, perhaps a favourite book recommendation, top writing tip or inspirational quote.

 

What sort of hat would you wear?

My first choice would be something simple like cat ears – black ones of course, but that’s not particularly Christmassy, is it? Antlers are always a favourite; reindeer are so beautiful but then there’s also a link to Gwyn ap Nudd, a figure in faerie folklore who is often depicted with horns or antlers. And, let’s face it, no one is going to fight you for that last piece of Christmas pudding if you’re sporting a decent set of

antlers . . .

 

What would you hope to see inside?

miniature_dnf_dictionary_055_ubtI love tiny, whimsical things – especially if they’re handmade. When I took bookbinding classes in Oxford a few years ago, one of the other students made the most beautiful miniature books. I would love to find one of these in a cracker, or perhaps a tiny snow globe or a beautiful Christmas decoration – something to treasure and bring out again each year. Humans have become so wasteful, so things like throwaway pieces of plastic and tat really bother me and crackers are notorious for this. I try to buy the ‘make your own’ cracker kits and put lottery tickets and little handcrafted chocolates inside, there are so many ways to be inventive.

 

Which fictional character would you pull it with?

Ooh, that’s a tough one. I’d love to pull a cracker with Turpin, a fairy from one of my own books (One Wish) to see her reaction when it went bang!, and also because she’s one of my favourite characters that I’ve created. Having said that, Turpin thieves everything she can get her hands on, and Christmas is really about giving, so I would probably say Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Match Girl. It’s such a tragic story and one that’s always haunted me. I would love to give her a wonderful Christmas dinner in a warm house, and inside her cracker would be a key, so she could come and live with me.