February Wrap-Up

Even though February is the shortest month, it didn’t feel like it! I was in work every day, teaching the keyworker and vulnerable children in class, and teaching live sessions for English and maths to the rest of my class who are learning from home. My IT skills have definitely improved! It has been wonderful catching up with the children every day which made us feel more connected as a class. I’ve also been reading The Train to Impossible Places to them in our afternoon sessions which they all seem to be enjoying. It will be wonderful to continue this with them when they come back into school on 8th March. Right, on to my bookish wrap-up …

Books I’ve read:

I’ve read 12 books this month: 8 physical copies, e-book and audiobooks.

NetGalley:

My Feedback Ratio is currently at 90%. I have requested and been approved to read 2 books this month, both of which I’m very excited to read. The Three Impossibles is due to be released on 3rd June, and The Lightning Catcher is due to be released on 13th May.

Books sent by publishers:

Books I’ve bought:

I have bought quite a lot of books this month, but some haven’t arrived yet, so I’m only going to include the 12 that have arrived in February. I had already read e-ARCS of The Shark Caller and A Tangle of Spells but really wanted physical copies as well.

How has your month been? Have you read any of these?

First Lines Fridays

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!

Maggie was sitting in Sol’s cafe, a cup of tea cooling beside her, only a few crumbs left of the huge slice of chocolate cake she’d just devoured. Beyond her flowed the dull afternoon bustle of West Minchen’s high street: its pound shops, gambling shops, restaurants and newsagents. But Maggie didn’t notice any of that. She was staring at someone. Here eyes were even wider than usual and a deep crease of concentration streaked down the middle of her forehead.

Any ideas?

This one has really intrigued me and, when I saw that the publisher had signed copies, I just had to have one!

Goodreads Synopsis:

Maggie Blue is an outsider, both at home and at school. She lives with her eccentric aunt Esme, and has no friends other than the irascible Hoagy, a stray cat who can talk to her. When Maggie sees Ida, her foe from school, being taken through a window to another world by one of their teachers who has transformed into a wolf, she is determined to save her, whatever the cost. But the dark world is full of danger, a place where happiness is valued above all else, and Maggie discovers that her role is far more important than anyone could have guessed. A thrilling and gripping tale of friendship, courage and the power of being yourself. 

Have you read this one? What did you think?

MG Takes on Thursday

This is my weekly meme celebrating amazing middle-grade books. I hope others will enjoy taking part in this too!

How to take part:

  • Post a picture of the front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.
  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence. 
  • Write three words to describe the book.
  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.

This week, I’m celebrating …

Written by Amy Sparkes
Cover Illustration by Ben Mantle
Published by Walker Books

Favourite Sentence from Page 11:

She moved into position, clenched her fists, stretched her fingers – her pre-pounce ritual.

This book in three words:

MAGICAL, ADVENTUROUS, FRIENDSHIP

The House at the Edge of Magic is a marvellously magical, heart-warming and hilarious adventure that I absolutely adored and is a story I would, without hesitation, recommend to any young – or older – lovers of quirky magical adventures. Just make sure you make yourself comfortable as this is a story you will happily disappear into … and reappear from hours later with your giggle muscles well entertained and your heart a little warmer!

Young orphan Nine earns her keep by pickpocketing for her gang-master, Pockets and lives in the Nest of a Thousand Treasures with his other thieflings.  Nine is keen to escape from her life in the Nest, and one way she does this is through visiting the library and reading.  She is a book-lover who feels most safe when she is in the library.  I loved this perfect quote: “Inside every book was a world: a world to which she could escape.”

However, it is not long before Nine finds herself in an entirely new and – ahem – ever-so-slightly weird world – in the best possible way! After stealing an ornament in the shape of a house from a young lady, she finds herself knocking on the tiny door-knocker and the ornament does the most unexpected thing!  It grows and grows until it becomes an eleven-storey crooked building. 

The door is opened by Eric, a troll housekeeper in a white, frilly apron with a penchant for two-word phrases and feather dusters.  Nine gets invited in, and soon meets the other two residents:  Flabberghast, High Wizard and Hopskotch Champion and desperate to be able to enjoy his beloved tea again, and Dr Spoon, a talking spoon in a kilt, wielding a sword, of course! Together, these three are just utterly wonderful:  they spark off each other with hilarious consequences.  

The house has been placed under a curse and Nine is the only one who can break it, but what will she get in return?  Perhaps more than she had bargained for!

This is a wildly wonderful, action-packed story that fizzes with magic, humour and heart.  The house has many unexpected tricks and surprises to play on its inhabitants which had me giggling on many occasions as Nine edges ever closer to breaking the curse, but will she be in time to avoid a great disaster for its occupants? 

I absolutely adored Nine who has had to be tough in order to survive and has created a hard shell around herself, so it is so heart-warming to see that shell fall away bit by bit as she learns to form friendships.  She has never had a real home, somewhere where she is free to be herself and form bonds with others.   She is a feisty young lady who stands up for herself, even when she is feeling scared.  I also loved the other occupants of the house who are rather eccentric to say the least, but completely and utterly brilliant!  My favourite is Eric who may be a troll of few words but he is gentle, compassionate and insightful with the bravest heart.

This is a story about finding friends and a home, about caring for others, and being brave enough to take chances and accept help – a treasure of a story!

I’d love if anyone who wants to give this meme a go would comment in the comments box and include a link to your post so I can visit, comment and find some great middle-grade recommendations. If you do create a post and are on Twitter, and would like to share your post, please use the hashtag  #MGTakesOnThursday so I can find it, read it and share it!

WWW Wednesday

I’m currently reading A Darkness of Dragons which I’m absolutely loving – I can’t believe I’ve waited so long to read this one, and am so glad I have A Vanishing of Griffins on my bookshelf. I’m listening to the audiobook of Tin after having loved The Monsters of Rookhaven. This took me a little bit to get in to but audiobooks often do, but as I’ve got further in, I’m enjoying it much more.

I’ve read three books this week. Mort the Meek is gruesomely hilarious and such a fun read. I loved the writing style with the narrator’s comments and the ravens chapter starts. I will post my review early next week. I wasn’t expecting to be sent a copy of Circus Maximus Race to the Death so it was a lovely surprise. I picked it up on Sunday, not sure quite what to expect, but, my goodness, it was wonderful and I couldn’t put it down. It completely transported me into the dangerous and treacherous world of chariot racing in Ancient Rome. Dido is a brilliant protagonist and I was totally invested in her journey. I will post my review prior to publication on 4th March. I couldn’t resist picking up The House on the Edge of Magic which so quirky and utterly brilliant. I will be posting my review tomorrow!

I was sent a copy of Everyday Magic by the publisher which has had its publication date changed to 1st April. This is one I’ve been really looking forward to reading, so I’m intending to pick it up at the weekend.

What are you reading? Have you read any of these?

Top Ten Tuesday

This is a weekly meme now hosted by That Artsy Girl Reader.  This week’s theme is Books That Made Me Laugh Out Loud. I love reading funny books that also tend to have heart-warming moments and wonderful friendships. These are ten that I’ve read which have all definitely made me giggle!

What books made you laugh-out-loud? Have you read any of these?

Review: The Long Way Home

Written by Corrinne Averiss and Illustrated by Kristyna Litten
Published by Little Tiger on 4th March

The Long Way Home is a gorgeously gentle, hopeful and heart-warming story, filled with kindness and humour which will not only take young readers on a wonderful adventure, but also reveal the importance of sustaining memories when a forgetting day happens!

Otto loves adventure and is excited to see where he will be exploring next with his beloved Nanu, herself a Great Exploraphant! Promising to look after each other, they begin their adventure – to Lion Mountain! On the way, Nanu becomes more and more forgetful as she forgets the name of the mountain, their backpack and even the way home. Will Otto remember all that his Nanu has taught him, and have the courage to find their way home?

I adored the close bond between Otto and his Grandmother, Nanu. He clearly loves and respects her and she is full of encouragement and kindness towards Otto. When Nanu realises that they are lost and she is unable to find their way home, Otto reassures her and uses what she has taught him to help. Nanu may be having a forgetting day, but she is still brave and strong; I loved that she was not defined by her forgetfulness, but has other qualities that she could still rely upon.

As well as being an exciting adventure through the African plains, encountering some other wonderful animals along the way, this story has a wonderful message about the importance of keeping memories alive and the strength to be gained in family bonds: the importance of looking after each other and helping to continue to do the things we enjoy even when we need support in order to do so.

This story is part of Little Tiger’s Colour Fiction range for newly independent readers, and has superb full colour illustrations throughout. These illustrations depict the landscape and animals of Africa, changing over the course of a day: the changing colour palette as the day progresses is striking. The images help to accentuate the loving and playful bond between Nanu and Otto beautifully and complement and add depth to the written text.

Thank you to Charlie Morris and Little Tiger for an early copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

Reading Ireland Month 2021: March 2021

I saw the announcement for Reading Ireland Month on the wonderful Cathy’s blog. How could I resist: Ah, gwan, ya will! other than to respond heartily with Ach, to be sure, to be sure, I will.

I’m very proudly Irish, having been born in County Donegal and then moved across the border to County Fermanagh so, when I saw this, I couldn’t resist taking part, especially as a re-watch of Derry Girls is encouraged and I might even get to buy bake some wheaten bread!

I’m going to read at least one book by an Irish Author each week during March and, hopefully, complete some other Irish related posts too!

These are the four I’ve chosen:

The Storm Keeper’s Battle by Catherine Doyle. This is the final part in the Storm Keeper series which I’ve absolutely loved. It is not being released until the beginning of March but I have it ordered.

Goodreads Synopsis:

Fionn Boyle, Storm Keeper of Arranmore, is facing the fight of his life. The terrifying all- powerful sorceress Morrigan has been raised from the dead and has sealed off the island from all help. Fionn is the only thing that stands between her and a dark future. He’s got to find a way to defeat her. But there are some terrible choices in store for Fionn as the dark sorcerer begins to take his nearest and dearest for her own. With only two candles left to burn, will Fionn master his powers in time to stop her?

The Eye of the North by Sinead O’Hart. This is the book that I absolutely credit with reigniting my love for children’s books and reading in general. I very rarely re-read books, but this is one I’ve wanted to go back to for a while now, and this seems the perfect opportunity.

Goodreads Synopsis:

When Emmeline’s scientist parents mysteriously disappear, she finds herself heading for a safe house, where allies have pledged to protect her. But along the way, she is kidnapped by the villainous Doctor Siegfried Bauer, who is bound for the ice fields of Greenland. There he hopes to summon a mystical creature from the depths of the ancient glaciers, a creature said to be so powerful that whoever controls it can control the world. Unfortunately, Bauer isn’t the only one determined to unleash the creature. The North Witch has laid claim to the mythical beast, too, and Emmeline along with a scrappy stowaway named Thing may be the only one with the power to save the world as we know it. Can Emmeline face one of the greatest legends of all time and live to tell the tale?

On Midnight Beach by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick. This one has just been long-listed for the 2021 CILIP Carnegie Medal, so I’m definitely interested in reading it. It’s also set in County Donegal so another reason to read!

Goodreads Synopsis:

Donegal, 1976. When a dolphin takes up residence in Carrig Cove, Emer and her best friend, Fee, feel like they have an instant connection with it. Then Dog Cullen and his sidekick, Kit, turn up, and the four friends begin to sneak out at midnight to go down to the beach, daring each other to swim closer and closer to the creature . . . But the fame and fortune the dolphin brings to their small village builds resentment amongst their neighbours across the bay, and the summer days get longer and hotter . . . There is something wild and intense in the air. Love feels fierce, old hatreds fester, and suddenly everything feels worth fighting for.

The Druid’s Tune by Orla Melling. I remember reading a time-slip story in school which took some teenagers back to ancient Ireland and the time of Cuchulainn. I think this might be it!

Goodreads Synopsis:

While visiting distant relatives in Ireland, a teenage brother and sister, curiously uneasy about the strange workman on their cousin’s farm, discover his strange powers when they are all transported back in time to take part in the struggle between Cuchulain of Ulster and Queen Maeve of Connaught.

I’m really looking forward to reading these books by Irish Authors, and hope to find a few more over the course of the month. If anyone has any Irish Children’s Author book recommendations, I’d love to hear about them.

Blog Tour: The Ocean Squid Explorers’ Club

I absolutely loved the first three books in this series which are so full of adventure and imagination, so was very excited to get invited to be part of the Blog Tour for The Ocean Squid Explorers’ Club and I’m just going to say it now: I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED IT!

Written Alex Bell
Illustrated by Tomislav Tomić
Published by Faber& Faber on 4th February

If you want to be thoroughly entertained by a story that is full of gripping adventure, sparkling with incredible world-building and which introduces curious creatures and captivating characters, then read on …

The Ocean Squid Explorers’ Club is the fourth book in this outstanding fantasy series (The Polar Bear Explorers’ Club) and is set in a spectacular underwater world with fantastic new characters, creatures and world-building.  For those who are longing to see Stella again, don’t worry, she does play a part.  If you have not picked up this series yet:  firstly, please do and, secondly, you can read this one as a standalone but, be warned, you will then want to treat yourself to the rest of the series!

Twelve-year-old Ursula Jellyfin is a talented submarine engineer working at The Ocean Squid Explorers’ Club; however, she longs to become an explorer herself.  Unfortunately, whilst the other Clubs are now admitting female explorers, Ursula’s Club President remains stubbornly against such equality.  Imagine his fury if he were to discover that Ursula is keeping a secret from her Club, a secret that may well get her expelled, or worse:  she is half mermaid, and mermaids are the enemy of the Club!  Little does he know that the real danger is far more imminent, and sees the entire Club disappear inside a globe wielded by The Collector.  The only part of the Club that remains is the submarine, The Blowfish, and its new junior explorer crew …

So begins a remarkable, magical and exhilarating adventure through the depths of the ocean as the crew attempt to return the Sunken City of Pacifica, which is contained in a globe aboard The Blowfish, to its original location in order to gain the help they need to fight against The Collector and rescue their own Club.  On their quest, they find themselves faced with colossal sneezing jellyfish, a storm maiden and pirates, not to mention meeting mermaids and elegant squids!  I know – amazing! Suffice to say that the world-building is astounding and brimming with imaginative delights from the starfish disco to the secret of Gilly’s Island to Jaffles Hotel. I don’t want to say more about these places but, trust me, they are worth visiting!   I loved that the adventure took the children in unexpected directions and surprised me in so many places – this kept me utterly spellbound throughout. 

What can I say about the young crew of The Blowfish?  Ursula is determined, courageous and learns to be true to herself.  Max is a talented robot inventor (he makes seriously cool robots!), is quick-witted and is someone who doesn’t like to conform.  At first, he is at loggerheads with Jai who plays by the rules, is more serious and less trusting than his twin sister. Genie is an animal whisperer with an awe-inspiring companion, Bess.  She is kind-hearted, prepared to see the best in others and creative, with an incredible selection of hats.  I loved how individual they are, how they overcome differences and find a supportive and trust-filled friendship, strong and courageous enough to deal with the danger, revelations and difficult decisions thrown at them. 

The double page illustrations scattered throughout are absolutely stunning and complement the author’s superb world-building perfectly. 

This is a dazzling delight of an exciting, action-packed adventure that kept me gripped throughout and left me desperate for the next adventure with Ursula Jellyfin and her friends. 

Thank you to Faber Children’s for inviting me to be part of this Blog Tour.  Please do check out the other stops.

First Lines Fridays

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!

Nine crouched down behind the stacked fish crates at the bustling market. Dead fish always look so surprised. she thought. Surprised to be dead? Surprised to be caught? Well, no one would surprise Nine, anyway. She had no intention of being caught, or of dying, thank you very much. Even though she ran the risk of both every day of her life.

Any ideas?

Goodreads Synopsis:

Nine is an orphan pickpocket determined to escape her life in the Nest of a Thousand Treasures. When she steals a house-shaped ornament from a mysterious woman’s purse, she knocks on its tiny door and watches it grow into a huge, higgledy-piggeldy house. Inside she finds a host of magical and brilliantly funny characters, including Flabberghast – a young wizard who’s particularly competitive at hopscotch – and a hideous troll housekeeper who’s emotionally attached to his feather duster. They have been placed under an extraordinary spell, which they are desperate for Nine to break. If she can, maybe they can offer her a new life in return…

This sounds like a fun, magical story and is one I’m really looking forward to reading.

MG Takes on Thursday

This is my new weekly meme celebrating amazing middle-grade books. I hope others will enjoy taking part in this too!

How to take part:

  • Post a picture of the front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.
  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence. 
  • Write three words to describe the book.
  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.

This week, I’m celebrating …

Written Pádraig Kenny
Illustrated by Edward Bettison
Published by Macmillan Children’s Books

Favourite Sentence from Page 11:

Uncle Enoch had described this to her as: ‘The place where we are created, where we sleep before birth. A place we have no memory of, but which haunts our dreams.’

This book in three words:

MONSTERS, FRIENDSHIP, FAMILY

I posted my first ever review on my Blog on 11th April 2019, and it was for Pog by Pádraig Kenny (review here) which I absolutely loved, so I was very keen to pick up and read The Monsters of Rookhaven and am only sorry that I waited nearly five months to read it!

This book is, quite simply, an incredible read which captured me from the opening line (Mirabelle was in the garden feeding bones to the flowers ….) and transported me into a world filled with gothic delight, marvel and monsters. Mirabelle and her monster family are separated from the human world by a glamour which becomes torn, allowing two orphaned children, Jem and Tom, to discover their existence. Jem and Tom are escaping their own monsters having lost both their father and mother and run away from an abusive Uncle.

The monster Family are brilliantly realised: a diverse group who are born from the Ether (a concept which I found utterly fascinating and led me to some of my own reading) and live together as a family, looking out for each other, protecting each other and allowing each other the room to explore and grow. The Twins can walk through walls, Uncle Bertram and Uncle Enoch can shapeshift, Odd can travel through portals, and Aunt Eliza – that’s just plain creepy! Mirabelle doesn’t seem to have any special ability, except that she doesn’t need to eat or sleep. And then there is Piglet who I found to be one of the most fascinating characters I have ever encountered in middle-grade, an entity that engenders both fear, respect and love in others, someone who needs to be locked away, but who opens others to their own feelings and truths and in so doing experiences for himself the depth of emotions from anger to grief to love. I also adored Uncle Bertram who, despite his monstrosity, is engendered with such innocence that my heart ached for him.

I really enjoyed the friendship between Mirabelle and Jem as they learn to open up to each other, trust and offer strength and support when needed. There are secrets, twists and revelations in this story that kept me enthralled, but I don’t want to say more for fear of spoilers.

I found the whole aspect of time and place fascinating: the images and mention of spheres, the portals Odd uses to travel to other times and places, Piglet’s plane of existence, and a twist in the story. The story is set shortly after the end of the Second World War which has encroached on the lives of the villagers who have lost family members and had injured members return. One of those suffering is Freddie who has lost his brother in the War and, whilst dealing with his own grief, he also feels the pain of his father withdrawing from him as he fights his own battle with grief. This provides a perfect storm for an evil that is hunting the Monsters of Rookhaven to seek its own path to them …

This story certainly questions who, and what, the real monsters are, and how humans can have their fears and uncertainty manipulated and turned into hatred through malicious intent. One of the central themes in this story is the pain caused by grief and loss of loved ones and how the sharing of grief can bring people closer, and help to heal.

The illustrations by Edward Bettison are stunning and cover both partial and full page spreads. Some of the drawings are rather chilling, and perfectly complement the darker elements of the story, whilst others depict wonderful images of the mansion and village.

I would highly recommend this story to anyone who enjoys high-quality, emotive, thought-provoking fantasy. I was so pleased to learn that there is going to be a sequel to this story later this year. I will definitely be getting it – and reading it – as soon as it is published.

I’d love if anyone who wants to give this meme a go would comment in the comments box and include a link to your post so I can visit, comment and find some great middle-grade recommendations. If you do create a post and are on Twitter, and would like to share your post, please use the hashtag  #MGTakesOnThursday so I can find it, read it and share it!