Review: The Girl who Speaks Bear

Published on 5th September by Usborne
Illustrator: Kathrin Honesta

Yanka’s tale is joyous, magical and everything that’s wonderful about immersing yourself in a truly exceptional story.  It tugged at my heartstrings, made me smile with contentment, tense with excitement, and kept me enveloped in the safest, cosiest bear hug imaginable.  The language is exquisite, with a lyrical quality permeating throughout the narrative, which is steeped in Slavic folklore.  It is, without doubt, one of the most beautiful stories I’ve ever had the privilege to read. 

But if I don’t know where I came from, how can I be sure where I belong?

Yanka was found outside a bear’s cave as a young child and has been raised by her foster mother, Mamochka.  She lives on the edge of The Snow Forest, but as she grows up, she feels more of an affinity for the forest and its creatures, and more of an outsider within her village.  She yearns to discover the roots of her past, so much so that she is compelled to leave her home and begin her journey into the forest to find out who she is and where she truly belongs … a journey that leads to danger, breath-taking revelations and deep-rooted friendships.

Yanka is determined to discover her origins and, along the way meets, and forms friendships, full of trust and loyalty, with a fascinating collection of creatures, people and even a rather unusual house!  I just must mention Mousetrap, Yanka’s house weasel, who may be diminutive in size, but he is huge in courage with a feisty nature – just adorable!    

Yanka is an incredibly brave and kind-hearted young girl, stronger than she believes.  She strives for self-awareness and a sense of belonging.  At times, she is full of confusion and feels lost, but she never gives up hope that she will find what she needs:  a place to belong, a home and the courage to be herself.

It only matters how I see myself.

I absolutely loved how the storyteller, Anatoly’s folktales are interspersed throughout Yanka’s narrative, separate to the chapters, sprinkling delicious clues to her origins.  The tales are beautiful in their own right, but resonate even more as they reveal a deeper understanding of Yanka’s heritage.  These oral stories within the story really emphasised for me the importance of a nation’s folklore, myths and legends to give readers shared experiences and a connectedness to each other through our shared knowledge of these stories. 

Kathrin Honesta’s illustrations are gorgeous, capturing the heart of the story beautifully.  I loved following Anatoly’s Map as Yanka adventured through the landscape.

I really cannot recommend this book highly enough.  If you want to immerse yourself in an astoundingly delightful world, filled with brave and adventurous characters, safe in the hands of a master storyteller, then you absolutely must read The Girl Who Speaks Bear.

Thank you to Toppsta and Usborne for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.   I have also ordered extra copies of both of Sophie’s books for our school and class libraries as she will be our Author of the Term.

Review: The Frozen Sea

Published by Hachette
Published on 5th September
Illustrations: Ben Mantle

This is a delightfully enjoyable return to the Kingdom of Folio which was visited in the first book in this series, The Lost Magician.  Forty years after the return of the Hastings siblings from their adventure in Folio, their young relative, Jewel Hastings, enters an old bookshop to escape the bullies who are chasing her. 

Once inside, she finds an old atlas which acts as a portal through which she is pulled into the Land of Folio, a world of the imagination.  Once there, she meets the Librarian who sets her on a quest to save her adoptive mother’s younger sister, her Aunt Evelyn, who is now the Empress of Folio.

Jewel’s hamster, Fizz, has entered Folio alongside her.  By the way, Fizz can now talk, and what a chatterbox he is!  He has an acerbic wit, is rude, fierce and loyal – he has the absolute best one-liners in his own inimitable style and, by his own inimitable style, I mean, he is a comic genius!  I truly adored him, and want my own Fizz!

The Librarian takes Jewel to begin her quest in the City of the Unreads where she meets her Aunt Evelyn who has introduced the citizens to the Stampstone, a device which connects them all to a vast store of knowledge, but is it also being used for a much more sinister and dangerous purpose? Just as Evelyn is prepared to return to her own world with Jewel, she is kidnapped.

And, so begins a stupendously riveting, exciting and scary adventure to save her Aunt … and to discover some important truths along the way.  With her trusted companions Fizz and her robot assistant Pandora, they adventure through the most amazing lands and meet the most wonderful, if sometimes frightening, characters.  Met with many challenges along the way, their quest eventually takes them to the Frozen Sea where truths are tantalisingly exposed amidst breath-taking danger.

The world-building is superb, from the Ideas Jungle where ideas grow from light-bulbs in trees, to the Marsh of Monsters where grotesque swamp monsters reside, to the Mountains of Mythia with its gathering of Gods and mythical beasts.

I think Jewel is a wonderful protagonist, a fantastic role model for all so-called nerds who are trying to find the courage and self-belief to stop hiding, apologising and instead be themselves, celebrating their nerdiness.  Jewel is clever, logical, perceptive and not easily fazed by the incredulity she is faced with.  Above all, she has the courage to face her fears, protect her loved ones and seek the answers to who she is.

I keep trying to be brave, but it’s just so hard.

I loved the use of the Stampstone as a plot device.  It alludes to the power of media and technology to control, distort and manipulate information so gaining power and control over its users.  Holders of knowledge, through stories and information, hold power and, if someone can control all knowledge, they can exert vast power.

This is a brilliantly immersive and engrossing story, with both charming and formidable characters, perfect for readers of 8+, or anyone who wants to return to that delightful land of imagination so well-remembered from childhood … and perhaps not lost to us yet! 

If you can imagine it, it exists …somewhere!

Thanks to NetGalley and Hachette for an e-ARC of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

August Wrap-Up!

Wow! It feels like I’ve been away from blogging for ever, but it has been just over two weeks. So, what happened in August? Well, an epic-ish fail for my reading journey! But, my summer has been a success as I’ve managed to switch off from teaching and enjoy reading, my holiday, Netflix, shopping … Of course, now I’m regretting not doing more work …

I’ll start with my epic-ish fail! I was taking part in the #20BooksofSummer Reading Challenge, an annual event hosted by Cathy at 746books.com. I managed to read 15 out of the 20 books, but still have reviews to write for two of them – although I do have my trusty notes! And I will post the reviews – but they will be late!

These are the ten middle-grade which I read first, and had no difficulty completing! They were all brilliant reads and most have now made their way to my class library.

The other five books I read were from my YA/Adult group, and I only managed five of these, but they were a very good five! I feel slightly guilty that I haven’t posted a review for Wakenhyrst yet, as it was one of my favourite reads this summer. I also do intend to read the other five books in my list, but it will probably take me all of Autumn to catch up – or more likely, my Christmas holiday!

Now, the reason/excuse I’m using for my epic-ish fail is that, when I decided to do this challenge, I didn’t realise I would be going on a two week holiday to my favourite place: Disney World. This kind of holiday is pretty full on, and I got very little time for reading or reviewing. However, I did have the best time – drank lots of cocktails; ate lots of fab food including visiting the Epcot Food & Wine Festival; seeing fireworks and parades; and, of course, the rides. We also went to the opening day of Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge which was incredible, if not rather crowded.

My other success was that I’ve managed to complete my Goodreads Reading Challenge. This is the first year I’ve used Goodreads, so I set myself a challenge of 60 books, which I’ve now completed. I think I’ll leave the number set, and just see how many more I can read by the end of December.

As well as the books I read for the #20Booksof Summer Challenge, I did also manage to read some other books in August. These are either books I’ve bought or been approved to read via NetGalley. Altogether, I read 12 books in August: three were NetGalley approvals, five were from my #20BooksofSummer and four were books I’d bought.

NetGalley approvals read:

Books bought and read:

I’ve also been approved to read two other books on NetGalley which I’m really looking forward to, especially ‘The Mercies‘ by Kiran Millwood Hargrave. I’ve read all of her middle-grade (apart from The Island at the End of Everything) and her first YA, The Deathless Girls which is being published on 19th September which is a stunning read. It is so hard not to keep requesting books, but I’m trying really hard to keep my requests under control. I was disappointed not to have been approved for Amy Wilson’s new book, Shadows of Winterspell, but it’s being released on 17th October so not too long to wait – except it is!

I also came home to some fantastic holiday post courtesy of Toppsta and Usborne.

This has jumped to the top of my TBR. I absolutely loved ‘The House with Chicken Legs‘ and can’t wait to read Yanka’s story. Now, if only that pesky work would get itself done so I can make a start!

I’m just going to finish with my Netflix series of choice – honestly, I’m not procrastinating to avoid work!

My husband and I watched the fantastic ‘Stranger Things‘ seasons 2 and 3 back-to-back. We’ve also been watching ‘Dark Matter‘ which I’ve really enjoyed. I seem to be able to watch sci-fi much easier than read it.


How did you get on if you did the #20BooksofSummer? What are you currently watching on Netflix? I’d be really happy to get sci-fi reading recommendations!

Review: The House with Chicken Legs

Published by Usborne
Published on 5th April 2018
Cover Illustration: Melissa Castrillon
Inside Illustrations: Elisa Paganelli

This is a truly special book which completely immersed me in the folklore of Baba Yaga and the magical quality of the story-telling, so much so that I read it in one rainy day sitting. 

Marinka lives with her Grandmother, Baba Yaga, in the most amazing house, with a personality of its own, and chicken legs which can travel quickly from place to place.  Baba Yaga facilitates the dead ‘through The Gate’ so that they can ‘return to the stars’.  I really liked how the dead people’s lives were celebrated and memories relived before passing through The Gate.  Baba Yaga is kind, generous and clearly has a deep respect for her important role which is certainly not without its sacrifices.  What is also apparent is that she has a deep love for Marinka who she hopes will become the next Yaga.

However, this is the last thing Marinka wants.  She is determined to choose her own path, and it involves the living, not the dead.   Desperate for friendship with the living, she is very excited to meet Benjamin who proves that real friendship and genuine acceptance of others can transcend any barrier put in its way, even that of a house getting up and moving away on its chicken legs! 

Marinka’s desperation to have a friend leads to her making a decision that will have a profound impact on her life, a decision which also leads to some breath-taking revelations.  This story is magnificently crafted, from the deeply engaging plot, with gripping action, to the magical quality of the writing, to the bringing to life of characters who I became really emotionally invested in. 

I wanted to be something I’m not.

Marinka is just the most wonderfully brave and fallible young girl with an inner strength that I marvelled at:  I absolutely adored her, all the more so because she is not perfect.  She is a whirlpool of so many emotions that tumble from her tumultuous heart.  She has the tenacity to reach for her own destiny; she is full of anger, defiance and frustration at the life she is expected to lead; yet, above all, she is a young girl on a journey of self-discovery whose triumph is in finding her place in the world, despite her struggles and hardships, surrounded by others who care for her. 

This is a perfect story for anyone interested in Slavic folklore, or just a brilliant story, and one which completely entranced me from start to finish.  The artwork is stunning from the front cover (by Melissa Castrillon) to the inside illustrations (by Elisa Paganelli) and really enhance the magical quality of this stunning story.

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!

She descended into the basement, tasked with collecting the bones.  In her hand, a single candle illuminated the way.  It cast a small circle of golden light that pressed the deepest shadows into the corners.

Any ideas?

I’ve been seeing this one reviewed quite a lot on blogs I follow, and it sounds so good that I had to add it to my ever-increasing TBR.

Goodreads synopsis:

Made of dust and bone and imagination, Irréelle fears she’s not quite real. Only the finest magical thread tethers her to life—and to Miss Vesper. But for all her efforts to please her cruel creator, the thread is unraveling. Irréelle is forgetful as she gathers bone dust. She is slow returning from the dark passages beneath the cemetery. Worst of all, she is unmindful of her crooked bones.

When Irréelle makes one final, unforgivable mistake by destroying a frightful creature just brought to life, Miss Vesper threatens to imagine her away once and for all. Defying her creator for the very first time, Irréelle flees to the underside of the graveyard and embarks on an adventure to unearth the mysterious magic that breathes bones to life, even if it means she will return to dust and be no more.

With echoes of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, debut author Heather Kassner crafts a gorgeously written story humming with magic, mystery, and dark imaginings.

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 The Secret Starling by Judith Eagle.  I’ve been enjoying lots of fantasy books recently, so thought I’d have a change with my other favourite genre, historical fiction.  Just started this one, but I can already tell I’m going to love it.

This week I have read An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson, The Red Scrolls of Magic by Cassandra Clare and Wesley Chu, Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver, The Magic Story Shop by Katja Frixe (translated by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp), Evie and the Animals by Matt Haig and The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson.  I’ve now got a lot of reviews to write up!

I hope to read a couple of approvals I’ve had via NetGalley:  Pages & Co: Tilly and the Lost Fairy Tales by Anna James and The International Yeti Collective by Paul Mason.  These should be perfect company on my flight to Florida! 

Review: An Enchantment of Ravens

Published by McElderry Books
Published: 25th September 2018 (Paperback)

This is not a genre I have read in a long while, but I must admit, I really enjoyed An Enchantment of Ravens which is a young adult fantasy romance with plenty of action and moments of danger. 

Isobel is a highly sought-after portrait artist whose patrons are the Fair Folk.  She is always cautious and wary around them, so is surprised to find that she lets her guard down around Rook, a Prince of the Autumn Court who has come back to Whimsy after many years to have his portrait painted by Isobel. 

However, she makes an unforgivable error by painting human sorrow in his eye, an expression of emotion which should be impossible for the Fair Folk.  The painting, showing his weakness, may cost him his life and, in order to save himself, he kidnaps Isobel so she can stand trial for her crime.  Any tentative feelings she finds herself having towards him are dissipated by his act.  This is just as well as Fair Folk and humans are strictly forbidden to fall in love under the Good Laws on pain of death or having to drink from the Green Well to become one of the Fair Folk, which is worse than a death sentence for Isobel.

Of course, their journey to the Autumn Court does not go according to plan and they find themselves in dangerous situations which inevitably leads to them slowly learning to trust each other, and the return of Isobel’s feelings for Rook.   The relationship between Isobel and Rook has a fairy tale quality and innocence, but with Isobel being in control despite the more obvious power of Rook. I loved many of the awkward, endearing encounters between them, and the moments of humour and tenderness.

Isobel and Rook find themselves drawn into a power struggle between the Fairy Courts which puts them both in the utmost danger.  Rook is determined to protect Isobel, no matter the cost.  Isobel is a feisty character with a quick wit who will not allow herself to become a victim to the political machinations of the Fair Folk. But, at what cost?  I really enjoyed the intertwining of the political plot thread with the development of the romance. I found the Fair Folk both fascinating and rather terrifying:  charming and glamorous yet vicious and cruel.

Overall, An Enchantment of Ravens is an engaging story with fast-paced action, a compelling plot, an endearing romance and sumptuous world-building. 

Review: Circe

Published by Bloomsbury
First published 10th April 2018
Waterstones Edition published 4th April 2019

This is the story of little-known Greek goddess and witch, Circe, told from her perspective:  it reads like such an honest portrayal of a woman fighting for her place in a male-dominated society that it completely engrossed me.  A truly beautiful and sometimes brutal read, steeped in well-known stories of Greek mythology, which lends a familiarity to the narrative, but imbued with a fresh interpretation grounded in a feminist approach.

Circe is the daughter of the Titan sun god, Helios and the nymph Perse.  Feeling worthless and powerless amongst the gods, she feels drawn to mortals who are to become an important part of her life and her knowledge of self.  Caught up in the politics of the Titans and Olympians, Circe is made a scapegoat for seeking her powers openly as a witch, and for standing up to her brutal father.  She is exiled to the island of Aiaia for all eternity as a punishment.  Knowing that she is alone forever, after having sought and been rejected in love, could have made her give up, but Circe decided to fight back …

I will not be like a bird bred in a cage … too dull to fly even when the door stands open.  I stepped into those woods and my life began.

Circe attunes herself to her witchcraft, growing in strength and power, with two of her greatest abilities being in illusion and transformation, both of which she will need to protect herself, and the people she comes to care for.   Although she is sent to the island to be isolated from others, this is not to be the sum of her existence. 

Circe plays a role in many of the major Greek myths and gains the attention of both Gods and heroes.  Engaging with these well-known myths, from Circe’s viewpoint, was genuinely fascinating and gave me a fresh insight into, and more awareness of, many of the gods and hero myths, especially that of Odysseus

Circe is a complicated character who at times I raged at, and at others, I raged with.  She may be an immortal god, but she exhibits a broad spectrum of human emotions throughout her many centuries:  jealousy, love, rage, revenge, loneliness, courage, compassion, grief to name but a few.   What really resonates with me is the sheer depth of her strength and tenacity, her ability to endure, to fight, to build relationships, to live a life not confined to the dictates of others.

I will do as I please, and when you count your children, leave me out!

Circe’s story is epic in scope and a beautifully written deep exploration of one woman’s fight for her place in a patriarchal world, forced to endure, determined to fight and prepared to dream.

#SixforSunday: Fictional places you’d love to go on holiday

The August theme for Six for Sunday, hosted by A Little But a Lot, is Books and Holidays and today’s wish is for fictional places you’d love to go on holiday. There are so many fictional places I’d like to go on holiday that it was difficult only choosing six.

Eerie-on-Sea

I loved the map for Eerie-on-Sea and would love to visit some of these amazing places during the summer.  I’d book into the Grand Nautilus Hotel before heading to the Eerie Book Dispensary to see if the mermonkey had a book for me.  After reading it on the Harbour Wall, I’d head to The Whelk and Walrus Pub for lunch before exploring the Museum of Eerie.  I’d then visit Mrs Fossil’s Flotsamporium to see what treasures she had found on the beach and finish my day with an evening walk along the beach.

Arranmore

The real Arranmore Island is in County Donegal where I was born, but I have not visited.  I’d love to visit it first and then visit the Arranmore in the books to see how they compare, but without Morrigan!

Turtle Island

I’m not really a fan of beach holidays, but if I had to choose one, it would be a beautiful island in the Pacific with glorious sandy beaches, just like Turtle Island! Somewhere I could relax, read books and wander along the sandy beach.

Rook’s Island

My ancestors are from Scotland and I visited Inverness and the surrounding area a few years ago.  I would love to spend some time on a Scottish island just like Rook’s Island with wandering goats, a music festival and some veggie chilli to enjoy.

Rumblestar

I’d love to travel to the Unmapped Kingdom of Rumblestar through a portal and visit the fantastical landscape of floating clouds, waterfalls, spectacular castle and meet the magical creatures.   Maybe even be lucky enough to talk to a cloud giant or a snow troll – and have an adventure!

Medlock

My favourite kind of holiday involves exploring and I’d love to be able to take the Gigantrak to the City of Medlock to meet some of the mechanimals and maybe – if I’m daring enough – sneak into the Imperial Personifate Guild of Medlock.

Review: Firefly – The Magnificent Nine

I have to start this review by admitting that I’m a MAJOR fan of the Firefly/Serenity universe and was gutted when they cancelled the series.  To be honest, I wasn’t sure about reading this book in case it didn’t live up to expectations … I needn’t have worried.  I LOVED THIS!  It was like sinking straight back into this amazing space western world which I completely fell in love with after being introduced to it by my boyfriend, now my husband!  We even went to the Starfury Convention where we met lots of the cast.  I have a signed poster, autographed comics, DVDs, graphic novels, series companion books and board games.  Reading this book, made me go and look them all out again:  they made me feel really nostalgic and brought back lots of happy, treasured memories.

Just a few pics from my collection:

Anyway, on to my review ….

Published by Titan Books
Published on 1st May 2019 (Hardback)

The events in The Magnificent Nine take place between the end of the Firefly TV series and the movie Serenity.  The scene-setting, the characterisation, the language and the plot all worked perfectly to help me imagine this as an episode of the TV show – just shiny!  And exactly what I was hoping for from this book!

Whilst trying to convince an elegantly dancing River Tam to give him back his beloved hat, Jayne Cobb, tough guy with a softish heart, gets a message from an old flame, Temperance McCloud, begging for his help.  Coogan’s Bluff is a dead-end town on the scorching planet of Thetis where water is more precious than gold.  Elias Vandal, who claims to have run with the Reavers, and his gang have imposed a reign of terror on other towns on the planet, and they have now arrived at Coogan’s Bluff intent on controlling its water supply. 

Captain Malcolm Reynolds accepts the plea for help, with a little persuasion from his crew.  If there’s one thing they despise, it’s the weak being oppressed by the powerful. 

I fought at Serenity Valley.  It ain’t about optimism.  It’s about doin’ what’s right even when everything’s stacked against you.

When they arrive, two surprises greet them:  a missile grounding Serenity and Temperance’s daughter, Jane – I’ll leave it at that!  

This story includes everything I loved about Firefly:  the bar brawl, the life-and-death situations, the complications, the revelations, the camaraderie, the banter, the bravado, the vicious villain, and the comeuppance.

The Serenity crew may come across as a rather dysfunctional family, but they are a family who, when the chips are down, look out for each other.   I absolutely loved returning to the world of Firefly through The Magnificent Nine and am really looking forward to the next instalment, Generations – super shiny!