Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Where The World Turns Wild by Nicola Penfold.

Review: Where The World Turns Wild by Nicola Penfold.

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Extract:

I know it’s autumn because it’s the end of October and I am eight weeks into Year Eight, but there are no leaves to colour and fall and in our crowded, clean city the cold never really penetrates too much. The breaks go up if it’s windy, the canopies if it rains.

And every morning I’m waking from my dreams of an altogether different kind of canopy of branches and leaves, and I think I can’t stand it anymore. Another day in this city.

(Where The World Turns Wild by Nicola Penfold. P32.)

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Synopsis:

Juniper and Bear live in one of the two remaining glasshouses – the only spaces where plants are allowed within their city. Everywhere else is grey and enclosed. Like a prison. This is how it has been ever since a virus was unleashed to kill humans and save the wild. Juniper is afraid that if her little brother Bear doesn’t calm down, he will end up in the institute. A place from which nobody comes out.

When scientists discover that the siblings’ blood holds the secret to surviving in the outdoors, their lives are endangered. They are left with no choice but to run. They set out for Ennerdale, the half-remembered home of their infancy.

The wild is a beautiful place but it is also a brutal one. It is a place where survival plays out on a daily basis and every living thing is in some danger. Not to mention the drones that follow them from the city. With so much up against them, will they ever make their way home?

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Review:

Dystopia is back and it is tackling bigger themes than ever before. It is also reaching out to a younger audience.

Where The World Turns Wild asks one of the deepest and darkest questions of our time: is sacrificing humans the only way to save the world? If, as an individual, you were given a choice between mankind and life itself, which would you choose? Juniper lives in a world where, fifty years before, a group took the fate of the world into their own hands, and the only humans to survive are the ones who live in enclosed spaces with barely any contact with nature. Children are taught to fear the wild and only the ones born with immunity to the virus can go outside. More to the point, Juniper reckons the ReWilders – the group who spread the virus – did the right thing. It is a view that could get her locked up for life.

It is a massive theme for an older middle grade or teen audience. It is also a question they must surely ask themselves in theory. Because if we don’t change the way we live soon – very soon – it will be too late to save the planet. Juniper knows the ReWild was extreme and that terrible things happened because of the virus. She also knows every living being was going to die if it didn’t happen.

Juniper and Bear are wonderful characters. They are children of nature trapped inside an unnatural city. They remind us that nobody who has seen trees and valleys and life would ever choose an artificial world. This is the other big theme in the book. There are people who have grown up inside cities and have barely seen the world outside. They are complacent about wildlife because they do not know it. This is a sad reflection of our own world. Growing up in London, I met people who stuck their fingers in their ears – literally – if anyone told them what was in their fast food milkshake. What had been sacrificed in the world for their beef burger to exist. They simply couldn’t imagine the damage, or the parts of the world that were being damaged, sufficiently to care. Books provide a safe space to face up to such attitudes. Being challenged can be scary, but books like this allow us to challenge ourselves and come to our own conclusions.

Bear and Juniper are also searching for their parents. Their travels across the landscape are inspiring and terrifying in equal measures. As a reader I wanted them to be safe, but I also wanted them to survive in the wild, because the thought of them going back to that city was terrible.

I also felt a personal connection to the story as a born Londoner who now lives in Cumbria. As much as I miss certain aspects of London, I remind myself how I used to feel returning there after visits to Cumbria. I used to miss the wide open skies and birds and green space so badly that it hurt.

With a fantastic premise and strong characters, Where The World Turns Wild has got the book world talking. It is beautifully written and it is up there with the greatest outdoor journeys of children’s literature. Read this.

teen

Review: The Good Hawk by Joseph Elliott.

Review: The Good Hawk by Joseph Elliott.

The Good HAwk

Extract:

She’s right, it is the Fourth. It’s the one chime we are taught to listen out for. All of the fourths – from all around the wall – are being struck over and over again; I’ve never heard them all ringing at the same time before. 

(The Good Hawk by Joseph Elliott. P81.) 

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Synopsis:

Agatha is a hawk. It is her job to patrol the sea wall to protect the boats on the water. When she makes a big mistake, and people question her right to be there, she determines to prove that she is capable of doing her job.

Jamie has been made an Angler against his wishes. He is afraid of the sea, afraid of the boats, and not at all happy about his arranged marriage to a girl from another clan.

When the clan us attacked and the survivors taken prisoner, Jamie and Agatha escape together. They come up with a plan to help their clan but first they must travel through the deserted mainland – a country decimated years ago by dark shadows and terrible magic.

Jamie and Agatha learn all sorts about themselves along the way, but they are not the only ones with secrets.

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Review:

Enter an Ancient Scotland ravaged by plague and dark shadows. Jamie is filled with anxiety about his future. Agatha has Down’s Syndrome and is fed-up of other people underestimating her abilities. When their clan is betrayed in a brutal scene (think demons who rip the heads straight off their quarry), Jamie and Agatha team up to rescue the survivors who were imprisoned and taken away on boats. Together they travel across the land and meet other people including a tribe of bull-herders who are interested in Agatha’s incredible empathy with animals.

With high stakes and an intriguing setting, this makes for a strong adventure.

This is a book with strong characters. Agatha and Jamie share the narration and it is impossible not to want to know what happens to them later down the line. It is a sign of a good character when you care as much about whether they get what they originally wanted (ie Agatha wants to return to her job as a sea hawk) than about whether they sort the massive obstacles in their lives (you know, like those terrifying shadow demons). Think Moana. Who cares whether she beats the coconut pirate things when we so badly want her to accept her inner-Voyager. The Good Hawk is definitely one of those stories. The adventure was strong but I cared especially about Agatha and Jamie who felt so very real.

Ancient Scotland is a fascinating and underexplored setting. Many readers have been excited to see a book for young people set in the world of clans. There has been a middle grade series in the USA and a couple of children’s films, but aside from those the first story to come to mind is by Rosemary Sutcliff and was published over 50 years ago. Joseph Elliot shows the beliefs and ways of life of different clans and tribes and this makes the world vivid and memorable.

Be warned: the attack scenes don’t shy away from detail. Think heads torn from bodies and characters we’ve connected with in grave peril. This doesn’t detract from the story and is used to make the action more real but some readers might prefer to know this in advance. 

With fantastic scenes and strong character building, The Good Hawk is set to be a talked-about adventure.

 

Thanks to Walker Books Ltd for my copy of The Good Hawk. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews · teen

Review: North Child by Edith Pattou.

Review: North Child by Edith Pattou.

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Extract:

Then the white bear was at the door. And before any of us could move, Rose had crossed to him. She reached behind a large wooden trunk that stood by the door and drew out a small knapsack. She must have hidden it earlier.

 ‘I will go with you,’ Rose said to the bear, and I watched, unbelieving, as the animal’s great paw flashed and Rose was suddenly astride the bear’s back as if he were some enormous horse.

(North Child by Edith Pattou. P91.)

 

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Synopsis:

No matter how hard her mother tried to deny it, Rose was born facing North. And just like the old stories about North-born children say, she longs to venture far from home.

When her sister gets dangerously ill, and the family is in danger of losing its home, Rose makes a pact with a mysterious white bear. In exchange for her sister’s survival and her family’s prosperity, Rose follows the bear to a strange palace where she remains with him, uncertain why he called on her.

Rose spends her days exploring the palace and weaving in the sewing room. At night somebody sleeps beside her, but she never quite sees this person’s face. The more Rose sees of the palace, and the more she comes to like the bear, the more curious she gets.

Can she unravel the secret of the palace without ruining her own destiny?

 

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Review:

It has been some time since I got so thoroughly immersed in a book. This is a story told in multiple voices, often in short chapters, but the plot is so satisfying and the language so beautiful that I lost myself within its pages. Reading it was like sinking into a dream and I spent my days waiting for the chance to pick the book up again.

Inspired by the fairy tale East Of The Sun And West Of The Moon, North Child is mainly about two characters: Rose, the adventurous girl who was always destined to leave her family, and the mysterious white bear. We also hear from the Troll Queen, our antagonist, and her story of desire and greed and heartless cruelty interweaves with those of the main characters.

Rose’s mother, father and brother Neddy are also given narrative voices. This may seem unusual at first, but Pattou pulls it off with great skill and the result is that we get a rounded picture of Rose. We learn about her home life and the people she loves even when she is miles away from them.

It seems no coincidence that weaving and threads are motifs within this narrative. The writing itself is like many richly coloured threads worked together into a tapestry.

There are so many memorable imagines within this story. Rose working at a loom to create herself a cloak fit for adventure. The White Bear carrying Rose over a frozen landscape. Rose and the Bear playing music in their many hours together in the palace. This is a very visual, very detailed story that remains in the mind in vignettes much like a fairy tale.

An epic tale about love and possessive desire told by a great storyteller. If you love fairy tale adaptations or simply good writing, this one is for you. The perfect story for long Wintery nights.

 

Thanks to Usborne Publishing for sending a proof copy of North Child. Opinions my own.

blog tour · Middle Grade Reviews · teen

Blog Tour: Invisible In A Bright Light by Sally Gardner.

Blog Tour: Invisible In A Bright Light by Sally Gardner.

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Extract:

Down she falls, through the dome of the opera house, down she falls, past the crystal galleon, and as she passes it she hears the sound of something coming adrift. Down, down she falls …

(Invisible In A Bright Light by Sally Gardener. P6.) 

 

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Synopsis. 

1870. It is opening night at the Royal Opera House and every one of the candles is lit in the huge chandelier shaped like a galleon which was mysteriously lost at sea. Orphaned and impoverished Celeste wakes from a strange dream to find that everyone thinks she is somebody else: a player in the forthcoming opera. 

Then the chandelier falls and the hauntings begin. 

Celeste is shadowed by a girl who claims to know her past. Together they must play a game called the Reckoning and save the lives of the loved ones Celeste can’t remember before it is too late. 

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Review:

There is no storyteller quite like Sally Gardener. She reminds me of my younger self in a very good way, my childhood self at fourteen or fifteen just before I became afraid to run with ideas and see where they took me. When you open one of Gardener’s books, there is no knowing where it will take you, except that the show will be spectacular and that it will be an experience to remember. 

Which is why I was delighted to see that Gardener had written a book about the theatre. Her style matches the visual, multi-sensory splendour of a good show. 

The strange events of Invisible In A Bright Light tie together a man in a green coat, a theatre, and a fantastic chandelier. Gardener weaves different layers together until we understand more about Celeste’s life, and what it is she must do. Reading it is like being led through the darkness until the lights come on and everything starts to make sense. Gardener creates a world that is disorienting and beautiful in equal measures. 

The relationship between Celeste and the girl whos shadows her, which begins after an accident involving the chandelier, reminds me of the best fairytales. It could be the thing to lift Celeste from her miserable life, or it could trap her in a nightmare forever. The balance of fear and hope kept me on tenterhooks as I invested all my hope for Celeste in this girl and her dangerous game. 

It is fantastic to see Gardener writing for a middle-grade audience again. Her stories draw the reader in and keep them hooked until the very last pages. This would be a great book for readers who like something a bit spooky but tremendously beautiful. 

 

Thanks to Head Of Zeus for my gifted copy of Invisible In A Bright Light. Opinions my own.

blog tour · teen · Young Adult Reviews

Blog Tour: Mother Tongue by Patricia Forde.

Blog Tour: Mother Tongue by Patricia Forde.

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About Mother Tongue.

The new dictator of the Ark – a society which exists in a world destroyed by Global Warming – wants to silence speech forever. People with fewer words are less able to argue back. Letta is a wordsmith. It is her job to keep words safe and to pass them on to the next generation. Letta and her followers are fighting back by forming hedge schools, and passing words on to those children who are willing to risk their security to learn. 

Then the babies start to go missing. 

This is high on my list of recent dystopia. We are now ten years on from The Hunger Games and it is important that young adult literature reflects the issues and discussions of the current day. Mother Tongue picks up on the disparity in society between those who have access to books and writing and words in childhood, and those who don’t. It shows a world where language education is purposely limited to all but a ruling minority. 

It is terrifyingly close to the bone. Children’s Laureate Cressida Cowell has highlighted statistics that show that children on free school meals are twice as likely to go to a school without a library. And adult education, which once enabled people to sit A-Levels through night classes, or attend university without getting into major debt, has been reduced to the bare minimum. The result is a lack of social mobility and a society willing to support those who appear to have knowledge

Letta is a fantastic protagonist. The dystopia of ten years ago featured lots of characters whose anger was shown as a strength. Letta is contemplative, doubting of herself but firm in her resolve. Her strength comes from a rounded mix of qualities. 

I am delighted that author Patricia Forde has written a post about the power of words. Thank you Patricia for your time, and to Little Island Books for arranging this opportunity. 

Mother Tongue is available now from Amazon, Waterstones and good independent bookshops.

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The Power of Words by author Patricia Forde. 

Stick and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me.

This was a song we sang in the playground as children. Even then I think we knew it was untrue. The bruises and wounds caused by the sticks and stones healed, and before they healed, everyone could see the marks and sympathise. The words that hurt us left no visible mark and elicited no sympathy, but buried deep inside us, they festered.

Words matter. Words can hurt. Words can heal. Words can empower. Words can divide.

So said the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, in his inauguration speech at the beginning of his second term in office. Through words, we can share our ideas, change people’s minds, support or destroy our fellow human beings.

Looking at history, we can trace the power of words, through the speeches of great orators. Who can forget Nelson Mandela’s famous speech where he said that he would die for that which he believed in?

I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal, which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

Mandela’s words echoed the earlier words of Martin Luther King in his most iconic I have A Dream speech.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’

In my novel The Wordsmith and its companion book Mother Tongue, John Noa, leader of Ark, has rationed words. People are only allowed to choose from  a list of five hundred words on pain of death. The words on the list are mostly practical. There are no words for emotion: no belief, no hope, no love. No words to persuade, no words to properly interrogate, no words to raise a rebellion. John Noa knew the power of words. In The Wordsmith Letta, the young protagonist, asks Noa to include the word hope on the list but Noa refuses. Noa knew that to encourage hope was to encourage the possibility of change.

Harvey Milk was the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California. Throughout his political career he was a committed activist for gay rights and became famous for his Hope Speeches.  This is an extract from one of them:

Without hope, not only gays, but those who are blacks, the Asians, the disabled, the seniors, the us’s; without hope the us’s give up. I know that you cannot live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living. And you, and you, and you, and you have got to give them hope.

We are the only species that can plant ideas in one another’s heads and we don’t even need a scalpel. Today, Donald Trump has weaponised words. He talks about illegal immigrants infesting America. Immigrants are referred to as dogs and criminals. He uses words to belittle women and to divide people. Words are his weapons. But words can be used for good or ill. For  Greta Thunberg, a young Swedish activist, words are also weapons – weapons that might save the planet. Speaking at a United Nations summit recently she denounced world leaders for their inertia when it came to climate change.

How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. … The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us I say we will never forgive you. We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line.

 

You could almost see people in the chamber duck as the shrapnel from her speech ricocheted off the walls around them. Words are dangerous. That is why powerful people have always feared them.

I will leave the last word to Winston Churchill, a man who had many faults but who knew much about power and much about language.

You see these dictators on their pedestals, surrounded by the bayonets of their soldiers and the truncheons of their police. … Yet in their hearts there is unspoken—unspeakable!—fear. They are afraid of words and thoughts! Words spoken abroad, thoughts stirring at home, all the more powerful because they are forbidden. These terrify them. A little mouse—a little tiny mouse!—of thought appears in the room, and even the mightiest potentates are thrown into panic.

 

Middle Grade Reviews · teen · Young Adult Reviews

Blog tour: Earth Swarm by Tim Hall.

Blog tour: Earth Swarm by Tim Hall.

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Extract:

Each one was about the size of a small car. And they were clearly metallic – all hard edges and dull gleaming surfaces. Yet at the same time – these machines – they were so lifelike. They flew with an undulating motion, like that of a fly. Their wings were a greenish blur at their sides. Each had a pair of reddish orbs, like compound eyes. 

(Earth Swarm by Tim Hall. P82.) 

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Synopsis:

A swarm of killer drones has descended on London.

Hal Strider wishes his Dad had a little bit more family time. Like any time. But there’s been a lot going on at Starr-Strider Biomimetics, especially since Tony Daeger turned up. That’s when the secret plans began. When the drones attack London, leading to mass evacuation and widespread panic, Hal realises they were built by his father’s company. And now his Dad is nowhere to be found.

Hal and his sister Jess are determined to prove their father’s innocence and to save the city, but they are up against machines which never stop, police officers who don’t want to listen and seven million people in panic. They also have something which the person responsible really wants. Perhaps Hall can figure out the truth with the help of the incredible, free-flying girl Sky, but they are up against a deadly enemy and time is running out.

A spectacular new Sci-Fi series suited to fans of Mortal Engines. 

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Review:

Everyone remembers where they were the day the drones struck.

Although the drones themselves are the stuff of Sci-Fi, the story is made relatable by the atmosphere. A historical news story is breaking, like 9/11 or days after Princess Diana died. The drone attack marks a transition in recent human history. The mass exodus, too, feels very much news footage from recent years although the setting is changed. Now it is Londoners whose homes are under siege. Earth Swarm is the sort of story which asks the reader to face big questions. What would it take to provoke such movement of people in the West? Should Capitalism and the quest for money put humanity at risk?

It is also a compelling adventure.

Even at the start, before we see the drones, Hal Strider’s life seems pretty exciting. He’s a trained pilot whose flying skills would be the envy of most adults. The range of aircraft and gadgets made me think of Thunderbirds. This story begins with a wealthy boy and his techy toys. Hal’s character goes far deeper than that, and his desperate longing to spend more time with his Dad will be relatable to young readers whose parents have no choice but to work overtime.

The drones themselves are like something from a horror film. There are masses of them and nobody knows who is at the controls or what their agenda is. Short passages at the end of some chapters offer the reader a drones-eye view of the action and drip feed information about what the drones are capable of. This increased my anticipation as I was reading the main action because my knowledge of what the drones could do felt incomplete, but I was given enough each time to feel that they were hiding some pretty mega technology.

And it turns out the clue is in the name. SWARM. Emphasis on the WAR.

This is a fast-paced adventure with high stakes, and I am delighted to see a children’s book centered around drone technology. Not so long ago, drones brought UK airports to a halt and raised big questions about how such basic air technology was able to invade the airspace. In my opinion, there are so many grey areas about drones which have yet to be explored, and these grey areas are the perfect place to find stories.

While this is aimed at a teen or older middle-grade audience, it has crossover appeal and huge potential to evolve into a series. The story explores the lengths to which people will go for personal gain, and how increasingly-sophisticated technology is putting us at risk from these individuals. It is also a fast-paced and convincing adventure.

The drones have arrived. Could they be our downfall?

 

Thanks to David Fickling Books for my copy of Earth Swarm. Opinions my own.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

teen

Review: To Night Owl From Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer

Review: To Night Owl From Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer

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Extract:

Here’s an even worse part. They want us to get to know each other and become close like sisters (or maybe even twins because we’re the same age?) because it’s possible we might become a “family”.

(To Night Owl From Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan & Meg Wolitzer. P9.)

cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a5861.pngSynopsis:

Avery is a bookworm and serial worrier from New York. Bett is a surfer and carefree spirit form California. Both are usually the centre of their dads’ lives, so when those dads meet at a conference, Bett tracks down Avery’s school email to propose that drastic action should be taken.

The dads are two-steps ahead. While they go off on a motorcycle tour of China, they have booked Bett and Avery into the same summer camp. To their surprise, they form the sisterly-bond their dads had hoped for and are all set to live happily-ever-after as a new family.

Things don’t go quite so to plan for their Dads. Determined not to part, Bett and Avery set off on the summer adventure of a lifetime and discover the true extent of family and friendship.

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Review:

The Parent Trap has been given a timely and brilliant makeover in this story of two girls from opposite sides of America. I am delighted to see a nod to the classic story. The Lindsay Lohan version was a staple when I was growing up, and there was a particular age (maybe 9 – 13ish) where I thought it was the most impossibly cool thing on the planet.

I have to admit that Bett and Avery have a heck of a lot more character. Bett isn’t a rule-breaker so much as a rule-maker. She makes her own rules. She is a good judge of her own limits (for example, as a proficient diver she is quite happy to jump from a zipwire into a lake) but less so of how her example will endanger others. Avery is superficially polite, but she worries to the point of driving everyone around her up the wall. Their characters are so individual that I can tell you exactly who they are even now I’ve finished the story.

The story is told through a series of letters and emails. Many of the emails are sent between Bett and Avery, but there are also messages from their dad’s, from Bett’s grandmother and from other characters they meet along the way. Although it takes a little keeping up with who is sending each message, it is worth the effort as it creates a totally rounded picture of each character.

This is a great one for the teen market. As a guideline ‘teen’ covers readers aged 10-14. What I liked about this story was it didn’t try to be YA for eleven-year-olds. It respects its audience exactly at the stage they are and tells a great contemporary story.

Grab a packet of marshmallows and some biscuits, get the smores made and get to know this great cast of characters. Whether you are a night owl like Avery or a Dogfish like Bett, you will relate to this story of friendship and family bonds.

 

Thanks to Egmont for my gifted copy of To Night Owl From Dogfish. Opinions remain my own.

blog tour · Young Adult Reviews

Blog Tour: Kim Curran’s ‘Slay’ Playlist

All about Slay:

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Synopsis:

They’re world famous, epic musicians and recognised as the cutest boy band on the planet. Conner, JD, Niv, Tom and Zek make up Slay. They are also demon killers. 

When Milly has the demon-encounter of a lifetime, the last thing she expects is help from a boyband. She finds herself on the road with the guys, hunting demons including the sinister Mourdant who has a plan to take over humankind. 

Can they figure out his plan in time to stop him? 

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Introduction: 

With Slay 2: On Tour hitting the shelves, I was delighted to have the chance to catch up on the first novel. My blogger friends had told me it’s a good story. What they didn’t tell me was how totally epic this book is. 

Slay takes a familiar narrative – evil dude with evil plan searches for object of all doom – and tells the story in a way that feels totally fresh.

As a mid-millennial, I grew up in the boy band era. Boyzone, N Sync, Busted, McFly, that other one, thingummy. Busted aside, I wasn’t a fan, but it is nice to see a teen book which acknowledges the importance of manufactured bands in young lives. Love them or hate them they are part of the landscape. Slay shows the ups and downs of life as a mega-star, but it also puts a twist on the whole thing. The only reason the band exists is as a front for the demon-hunting. 

The demons are scary, but the plot is fantasy rather than horror. It strikes the right balance in a way which reminded me of films like The Little Vampire and Casper The Friendly Ghost. The setting is a little more modern, with boys who create vlog diaries for their fans, but it has the same timeless appeal. 

Kim Curran kindly shared the playlist she created when she wrote Slay, and I am delighted to share it with you. (Note: I remember Busted: The Year 3000 on repeat.)

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Slay playlist by Kim Curran 

I can write anywhere: in my office at home, on the sofa, in cafes even on the bus. But I really struggle to write in silence. Music is an essential part of the process for me. So, whenever I set out to write a book, I always create a new playlist to write to. That way, as soon as I put it on, I’m sucked straight into the world!

My Slay playlist (or slaylist if you will) is entirely taken up by boy bands!

Kim Curran’s Ultimate Boy Band playlisthttps://open.spotify.com/user/kimecurran/playlist/0BZTOczZZCMSgCyyo2cQoO

http://bit.ly/UltimateSLAY

To hear Kim’s Slay: on Tour playlist, checkout Golden Books Girls’ stop on the Slay: On Tour Blog Tour!