Mid-Year Freak Out Book Tag

This is a tag I’ve seen quite a few times, and have enjoyed reading so I thought I’d give it a go! I last saw it on Lucy’s Novel Purpose, and she tagged anyone who wanted to give it a go, so I considered myself tagged. Thank you to whoever created this tag!

What is the best book that you’ve read so far in 2019?

I’ve been really lucky this year with my reading choices as I’ve really enjoyed so many of the books I’ve read. I’m going to opt for one of my more recent reads which really had me so hooked that I carried it with me all day so could take any opportunity to read it!

What has been your favourite sequel of the first half of the year?

My absolute standout sequel was one that I read immediately after the first book in the series as I loved the first so much. The first book is Begone the Raggedy Witches and the second …

Is there a new release that you haven’t read yet but you’re really excited to?

This was hard, as I have bought lots of new releases, all of which I’m looking forward to reading. I found this one today and, after reading the blurb, just had to get it.

What is your most anticipated release for the second half of the year?

I loved books inspired by folklore, so know I will love this one …

What is your biggest disappointment so far?

This many seem like a cop-out, but I really have loved all the books I’ve read this year. I’ve read outside my preferred genre (fantasy) and have actually been surprised by how much I enjoyed other genres.

What is your biggest surprise so far?

As I’ve said, the majority of my reading is within fantasy, so I’ve chosen one outside fantasy which I loved more than I thought, especially considering I have absolutely no understanding of chess!

Who is your fictional crush from this year?

I’ve taken ‘crush’ to be a character I would love to have in my life and, in this case, it’s someone who lives under the bed or in a green carpetbag! I’m talking about Oswin, the kobold who is suspiciously like a cat!

Who is your new favourite character?

I’d have to choose the most brilliantly named, Utterly Thankless, who is a quick-witted rule-breaker with a penchant for recklessness who took me on one of the most spell-binding adventures this year!

A book that made you cry?

A few books have made me cry this year, but the one that made me cry the most was this one …

A book that made you happy?

This book made me happy for a couple of reasons. It is the first physical ARC I’ve received from a publisher, and the main character is an adorable dog!

Your favourite book to movie/tv show that you’ve seen so far?

I’m going to do this the other way round. One of my favourite shows of all time is Firefly, so I was really pleased to find this …

What is the most beautiful book that you have bought?

The book with the most beautiful cover I’ve bought …

What is your favourite post that you have written so far this year?

I just starting blogging in April of this year and I can honestly say I’ve loved the whole experience. I didn’t realise that blogging could be more than just posting reviews, so I guess my favourite post is the first book tag I did: #SixforSunday (hosted by A Little But a Lot): 2019 Books I want to read!

What are 6 books that you want to read by the end of the year?

I have far too many middle-grade books I want to read, so I can’t possibly choose. I’m going to choose six from other books I have in my TBR which I want to read.

I’m not going to tag anyone, but if you want to have a go, you’re tagged!

First Lines Fridays is a weekly feature for book lovers hosted by Wandering Words. What if instead of judging a book by its cover, its author or its prestige, we judged it by its opening lines?

Pick a book off your shelf (it could be your current read or on your TBR) and open to the first page

Copy the first few lines, but don’t give anything else about the book away just yet – you need to hook the reader first

Finally… reveal the book!

Nabil had been foraging on a piece of scrubland in the Western Quarter.  The air was thick with heat and dust, but otherwise there had been no warning signs.

Published by Orion Children’s Books

I have been approved for this on NetGalley. It is being released on 1st July.

Goodreads synopsis:

Shifa and her brother, Themba, live in Kairos City with their father, Nabil. The few live in luxury, whilst the millions like them crowd together in compounds, surviving on meagre rations and governed by Freedom Fields – the organisation that looks after you, as long as you opt in.

The bees have long disappeared; instead children must labour on farms, pollinating crops so that the nation can eat. But Nabil remembers Before and he knows that the soul needs to be nourished as much as the body so, despite the risk, he teaches his children how to grow flowers on a secret piece of land hidden beneath the train tracks.

The farm Shifa and Themba are sent to is hard and cruel. Themba won’t survive there and Shifa comes up with a plan to break them out. But they have no idea where they are – their only guide is a map drawn from the ramblings of a stranger.

The journey ahead is fraught with danger, but Shifa is strong and knows to listen to her instincts – to let hope guide them home. The freedom of a nation depends on it . . .

WWW Wednesday

This is a meme hosted by Taking on a World of Words.  It asks three questions:

1.       What are you currently reading?

2.       What did you recently finish reading?

3.      What do you think you’ll read next?

I’m currently reading Where the River Runs Gold by Sita Brahmachari.  This is one I’ve been approved for through NetGalley:  it is being published on 11th July so it has jumped to the top of my TBR!

I recently finished You Won’t Believe This by Adam Baron and The Longest Night of Charlie Noon by Christopher Edge.  I was approved for You Won’t Believe This on NetGalley.  It is being released on 27th June, so I will publish my review soon.    The Longest Night of Charlie Noon is my second book on the #20 Reads of Summer challenge.  It is incredible:  an exploration of the concept of time in a fairy tale-like setting. 

Even though I’m very tempted by some of my more recent book buys, I’ve really been looking forward to The Garden of Lost Secrets by A M Howell as I hope it will be reminiscent of The Secret Garden, one of my childhood favourites.

Top Ten Tuesday!

This is a weekly meme now hosted by The Artsy Girl Reader.  This week’s theme is: Most Anticipated Releases of the Second Half of 2019. 

I have recently posted my favourite books in a series which are being released in the second half of 2019, so I’m only including books which are not on that list.

No matter how many books I have in my TBR, I keep eagerly awaiting more. 

JULY Fire Girl, Forest Boy by Chloe Daykin, released on 4th July The True Colours of Coral Glen by Juliette Forrest, released on 4th  July.

AUGUST A Pocketful of Stars by Aisha Busby, released on 8th August.

SEPTEMBER Rise of the Dragon Moon by Gabrielle K Byrne, released on 1st  September. The Girl who Speaks Bear by Sophie Anderson, released on 5th  September. The Time of Green Magic by Hilary McKay, released on 5th  September. The Frozen Sea by Piers Torday, released on 5th September.

OCTOBER The Somerset Tsunami by Emma Carroll, released on 3rd October. Frostheart by Jamie Littler, released on 3rd October. Shadow of Winterspell by Amy Wilson, released on 17th October.

Has anyone else got these on their list?  I’m sure I’ll be adding to my TBR from reading others lists today!

Review: Wildspark

Author: Vashti Hardy
Cover Illustration: George Ermos
Publisher: Scholastic
Publication: 2nd May

I was utterly spellbound by this absolute marvel of a book, full of jaw-dropping discoveries and unexpected twists, led by the most wonderfully realised cast of human and personifate characters.  The story is crafted beautifully by a masterful storyteller, whose imagination and world-building are breath-taking.

Prue Haywood is a talented engineer who lives on her small farm, building and repairing mechanimals.  She is overwhelmed by grief at the devastating loss of her older brother Francis.  But what if she could find a way to bring her adored brother back? 

A seemingly chance encounter with Craftsman Primrose from the Imperial Personifate Guild of Medlock offers her just that.  Prue makes a spur of the moment decision to leave her small farm and travel to the City of Medlock where she accepts an apprenticeship with Craftsman Primrose under the guise of Frances.

Once apprenticed, she is determined to use her superb engineering talent to bring her brother back into her life.  How?  The Guild have perfected the ability to bring people back from the dead and place them in the bodies of animal personifates, but they have no memories of their previous lives.  Can Prue bring her brother back with his memories intact? 

It is not long before Prue and her friends, Agapantha and Edwin (who is the first personificate apprentice) make some startling discoveries which lead them on an action-packed adventure to save the City of Medlock – but who is the enemy?  What terrors lurk in the depths of the forest?  The tension is palpable as the plot twists thicken, the threat increases, loyalties are questioned, and heart-breaking decisions have to be made. 

Prue is just the most amazingly inspirational young girl.  She is not only ingenious, curious and determined but also courageous, kind-hearted and principled, no matter the cost.  She is also a fantastic STEM role model, who is determined to make a difference in the world. 

The work of the Guild also deserves mention as it raises fascinating moral questions which centre around the exercise of free will, the entitlement to knowledge and the right to equality for all.  These are political and philosophical points which are addressed by a variety of characters, at different levels of society within the story, and are arguments I really enjoyed following as an underlying thread in the narrative.  As a reader, willingly ensconced in the City of Medlock, it made me question and challenge and really engage with the issues alongside the citizens of Medlock. 

Wildspark really is the most deeply immersive story which transported me on a journey as thrilling and awe-inspiring as I imagine a ride on the Gigantrak would be!  I didn’t want the journey to end, and I hope I get to adventure with Prue and her friends again.

My Journey Back to Reading … and into Book Blogging!

I’m really enjoying writing reviews for my blog, although I must admit, it’s taking me a LOT longer than I thought it would to write each one – and I don’t really understand why!  I make pages and pages of notes as I read.  I think I need them as a kind of security blanket whilst I get more confident in my ability to write reviews!  The funny thing is that, although I write copious notes, I hardly look at them when actually writing my review.  I don’t yet find it easy to write reviews (not sure I ever will), but I do find it enjoyable and personally rewarding.

For most of my life, I have been an avid reader and, before I became a teacher, I was easily able to devour a book in one sitting, and would frequently be reading a book I couldn’t put down at 3am!  My nine to five job enabled me to come home from work, switch off – and read!

This is something that virtually stopped overnight when I started my PGCE and teaching life, as teaching simply took over my life!  At a time when reading books would have helped me and my class, I just stopped as the endless cycle of marking, planning and assessment took up the majority of my time.  Holidays were spent preparing for the next term and recuperating from physical and mental exhaustion! 

This is something I now regret, and I am determined to redress the balance.  During Christmas this year, I made a conscious decision that I was going to actively engage with reading again, and it really has been the most rewarding experience.  Over the Christmas period, I read 10 books – and took a break from school work for most of that time.

I started reading middle grade books which has completely rekindled my love of reading.  Reading these has reminded me of why I loved reading in the first place:  the sense of escapism; the freedom to wander in new worlds; the complete suspension of disbelief and pure joy of the fantastical; and, the emotional connection with characters. 

Just before Easter, I thought I’d have a go at blogging as I’d been admiring some great bloggers via Twitter.  I didn’t have a clue – except that maybe WordPress was a good platform to use!  It took me a while to get my head around using it – and I’m definitely still not confident with most of the features – but I learned enough to let me post my first book review! 

I thought no-one would ever read my posts, or engage with me but, to be honest, I started blogging as a personal challenge to myself – to give myself something to write other than comments in children’s books and modelled texts for writing in class!  It was an added bonus when some people liked, and commented, on my posts. 

Coming back to reading, and discovering blogging and some of the wonderful people in the book blogging community (both via WordPress and Twitter) really has been a cathartic release which has helped me in balancing my home/work life, and has made me feel so much more relaxed and content in my life. 

Picking up a book now helps me to de-stress and relax after work, but it also benefits the children in my class who love having a ‘bookish’ teacher who chats to them about books, reads to them every day and gives them free range of an ever-growing class library of fantastic fiction.  Not to mention having a relaxed, happy teacher – most of the time!

First Lines Fridays is a weekly feature for book lovers hosted by Wandering Words. What if instead of judging a book by its cover, its author or its prestige, we judged it by its opening lines?

  • Pick a book off your shelf (it could be your current read or on your TBR) and open to the first page
  • Copy the first few lines, but don’t give anything else about the book away just yet – you need to hook the reader first
  • Finally… reveal the book!

They say the day the Governor arrived, the ravens did too.  All the smaller birds flew backwards into the sea, and that is why there are no song-birds on Joya.  Only huge, ragged ravens.

Any ideas?

This is by one of my absolute favourite authors.    Goodreads synopsis:

Forbidden to leave her island, Isabella Riosse dreams of the faraway lands her father once mapped.
When her closest friend disappears into the island’s Forgotten Territories, she volunteers to guide the search. As a cartographer’s daughter, she’s equipped with elaborate ink maps and knowledge of the stars, and is eager to navigate the island’s forgotten heart.
But the world beyond the walls is a monster-filled wasteland – and beneath the dry rivers and smoking mountains, a legendary fire demon is stirring from its sleep. Soon, following her map, her heart and an ancient myth, Isabella discovers the true end of her journey: to save the island itself.

When one just isn’t enough!

Books in Series:  New releases in next few months

Even though I have an ever-growing TBR pile, I just can’t resist looking forward to new books in a well-loved series being published:  I guess they feel like returning to catch up with old friends.  I’ve been finding out which of my favourite authors are releasing new books in a series which are being published later this year. The covers for all of these are absolutely stunning!

These are the ones I’m really looking forward to with the synopsis from Goodreads.

Bloomsbury Kids:
published 8th August

Princess Sofia of Drachenheim is sick of being used for her older sister’s political gains. At twelve years old, she’s already been a hostage to invading dragons and a promised future fiancé to a wicked fairy. Her only comfort lies in writing letters to her pen pal and best friend–Jasper, a young dragon whom she’s never even met. When Sofia’s older sister sends her on a diplomatic mission to far-off Villenne, she’s meant to play the part of a charming, smiling princess. But when an accident leads to her exile from the city, Sofia is free to wander as she pleases for the first time in her life. And when Jasper’s food-mage sister Aventurine turns him into a human boy, Sofia thinks life can’t get any better. Until… the legendary ice giants of the north attack, trying to reclaim the territory that they lost centuries ago. With the dragons and royals frozen in ice, can Sofia and Jasper save their families and kingdom?

Faber & Faber:
published 5th September

From the Ice Wastes beyond the Cinder Wall emerges an unlikely hero. Rejected by his village and left to die, young Uki is given life and unique powers by a long-buried spirit from the time of the Ancients . . . and a life or death mission. Joined by two other outcasts – a trained assassin who refuses to kill people and a very short rabbit who rides the fastest jerboa on the plains – Uki must capture Valkus, the Spirit of War, before rabbitkind destroys itself in conflict.

Harper Collins:
published 19th September

A magical adventure to delight the imagination. The curl-up-on-the-sofa snuggle of a series from a uniquely talented author. After solving the mystery of Tilly’s mother’s disappearance, the bookwandering community is at risk. An extreme group of Librarians have taken over the British Underlibrary and they want to restrict bookwandering. Tilly and Oskar believe that The Archivists are the key to restoring balance – but nobody has seen them for thousands of years, and most people think they never really existed anyway. Is a journey to the French Underlibrary and a peculiar book of fairytales, the key to discovering their whereabouts? But wandering into fairytales is dangerous and unpredictable, and the characters aren’t as they seem. Soon, Tilly and Oskar realise that villains don’t just live inside the pages of books. Sometimes, you don’t get to live happily ever after…

Usborne:
published 3rd October

The adventure continues in book two of the stunning The Train to Impossible Places middle-grade fantasy series! Suzy Smith and her friends have gathered again for the re-launch of The Impossible Postal Express. The celebrations don’t last long though, before Trollville is rocked by a violent tremor—one of a series growing more powerful by the days. It’s clear something sinister is underfoot. Nevertheless, Suzy’s got a long overdue package that the Express must deliver, and it may just lead her to some answers.  In P. G. Bell’s The Great Brain Robbery: A Train to Impossible Places Novel, Suzy and the Express will travel deep under Trollville through the Uncanny Valley, and sky-high to new impossible places like Cloud Forge. She and the gang will test out its kinks, er, new features, and meet new allies and enemies alike, from a sentient cloud-consciousness to an obnoxious magician.

Firefly Press:
published 3rd October

After rescuing Tomas from enchantment, orphan Seren Rhys is enjoying her first summer at Plas-y-Fran. But as autumn arrives, it brings with it a mysterious new governess who seems intent on drawing Tomas away from Seren and his family.           Dangerous figures from a bewitched toy carousel stalk the house, and fearing the worst, Seren calls on her old friend, the clockwork crow, to help her.

Is anyone else looking forward to these?  Are there any being released this year which I’ve missed out?

WWW Wednesday!

This is a meme hosted by Taking on a World of Words.  It asks three questions:

1.       What are you currently reading?

2.       What did you recently finish reading?

3.      What do you think you’ll read next?

I’m currently reading You Won’t Believe This by Adam Baron.  This is one I’ve been approved for through NetGalley.  I had totally forgotten about my NetGalley Approvals when compiling my #20BooksofSummer, so I guess I get to do some extra reading!  This book is brilliant:  it’s written in a really honest, conversational style and is so believable – even though it’s called You Won’t Believe This!

I recently finished Wildspark by Vashti Hardy.  I read the majority of it on Saturday as I really could not stop reading it.  I’ll post my review shortly.

Even though I really want to read Circe, I’ve decided to leave it until we break up from school.  I want to try to get more middle-grade read before July.  I’ve decided to read The Longest Night of Charlie Noon by Christopher Edge.  Having read The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day, I just know this is going to be an incredible read.

Review: She Wolf by Dan Smith

Author: Dan Smith
Cover illustration: Jill Calder
Publisher: Chicken House
Publication: 7th March 2019

She Wolf is the powerfully engrossing story of one young, fiercely independent, Danish girl’s fight for survival, and vengeance, in the bleak, wintery landscape of Northumbria in AD 866, following the death of her mother soon after they are washed ashore.

The story centres around Ylva’s absolute single-minded determination to get revenge for her mother’s death, revenge being a central tenet of Viking religion.  She resolutely believes that her mother has been killed by the three-fingered man, a dangerous and frightening warrior, and refuses to cry or grieve, until she has succeeded in her vengeance. 

Her fear and pain are kept at bay by her inner conversations with Geri, her faithful dog and her memories of the stories her mother told as well as the biting of the inside of her cheek, something she relies on to keep her emotions from spilling over into the grief she refuses to express.  I found this action, which is repeated at various points in the story, incredibly moving; for me, it crystallises what an incredibly courageous and fierce young girl Ylva is as she battles to control her pain, anger and fear.

Soon after her mother’s death, Ylva meets a Saxon warrior, Cathryn and her silent, wary companion, Bron.  Cathryn is determined to help Ylva, and Ylva is just as determined to journey alone.  Initially, Ylva fights against accepting any help as she is fiercely independent and naturally mistrusting of strangers, until circumstances leave her no choice.  Should she trust this stranger offering to help her, and talk her out of her vengeance?  What price is Ylva willing to pay to avenge her mother’s death? 

The action is relentless and fast-paced as the tension builds to an almost unbearable crescendo:  hunter becomes hunted, wolves and bears roam the forest …  This tension is masterfully counterbalanced with the building of fledgling friendships, blossoming trust and the tentative acceptance of help.

Ylva’s story captured not only me, but also my class who I read it to as our class reader.  We were all utterly engrossed in Ylva’s heart-stopping adventure through the forests of Northumbria, and learnt a lot about fierce girls and Viking culture.