First Lines Friday

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!

The storm blew up without warning as they rounded the cape, a jagged seam of dark sky splitting the heavens above them as thunder rolled over the horizon. A vicious wind cut down upon the mainsail, tugging back and forth at the rigging with a snap-snap-crack-snap-snap-snap. A cold rain angled from the clouds, a thousand icy pinpricks stabbing at Katy’s face as she fought the rudder.

Any ideas?

Goodreads Synopsis

Living among the flowers and ferns of Kew Gardens, Katy has always dreamed of more – of the sky and the stars and the sea. Unfortunately for Katy, her father doesn’t understand. He says young girls should be content to stay at home, not go off gallivanting around the world.

So when news reaches London of a meteorite falling in the faraway land of Brazil and an expedition being put together to find it, Katy knows it’s her chance to follow her dreams and prove her father wrong. And winning a place on the trip is just the start of her extraordinary voyage on the trail of a fallen star…

Blog Tour: What’s That?

Thank you so much to Nigel for inviting me to be part of the Blog Tour for his wonderful picture book, beautifully illustrated by his talented son, Robbie.

Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere.

Carl Sagan (taken from ‘What’s That?’)

Siblings Idris and Umo are playing in the garden when they decide to have a race to the garage where they find a rather innocuous item: a piece of red material. The siblings immediately begin to use their imagination to ponder where the material could have come from …

I love how this story celebrates the power of the imagination by encouraging deeper thinking as the children start with the most obvious suggestions and then begin to think outside the box, suggesting much more creative ideas. The question ‘What’s That?’ leads the children to think about what the material could be from with both starting by making statements, but then framing questions and further statements as their imaginations take flight.

The story is written as a conversation between Idris and Umo in a straightforward style using direct speech within speech bubbles. There is plenty of opportunity for inference through the illustrations with fantastic use of body language and facial expressions.

I thought the ending was wonderful as it gives a perfect opportunity for an item to be introduced for young readers to have a go at answering their own ‘What’s that?’ question. I think that a class of KS1 children would have great fun reading this story, and then letting their imaginations take them on their own journey with a range of items.

The illustrations are gorgeous – wonderfully expressive and fun. I loved looking out for Wormington and Siago who will definitely bring giggles, and I think young children will enjoy spotting them too! In fact, I think they need to tell their own story!

This is a perfect picture book to unlock creativity in young children , and encourage them to have fun, explore and let their imaginations run wild – who knows where they will end up?

Do check out the other stops on the Blog Tour below:

WWW Wednesday

I’m really enjoying listening to the audiobook of Spellslinger. I really like Kellen who should be a mage, but he doesn’t have any magical powers much to the disappointment of his father. He is quick-witted and sarky and I’m hoping has a good heart! I’m also reading The Wondrous Prune which is a magical read as Prune develops the ability to to bring her drawings to life. She is a wonderfully sympathetic character who has a lot to deal with. I’ve just started Carnival of the Hunted and am hoping to love it just as much as Carnival of the Lost.

I finished reading Children of the Quicksands which is set in Nigeria and includes Nigerian folklore. I enjoyed this one and am hoping to read The House of Shells over the summer. I also read Spellstoppers which was a fast-paced, magical read. I will post my review soon.

I finish work on Thursday, so I’m hoping to read both of these over the first few days of holiday.

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

MG Takes on Thursday

This is my weekly meme celebrating amazing middle-grade books, now with a re-vamped banner!

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 Alex Cotter
Cover Illustration by Kathrin Honesta
Published by Nosy Crow

Favourite Sentence from Page 11:

Not one of them was a Curly.

This book in three words:

MYSTERY, TRANSFORMATION, LEGEND

The Mermaid Call is a brilliantly engrossing mystery that kept me completely captivated throughout:  a story of transformation, activism and belonging entwined with a dark tale of a legendary mermaid.

Vivien lives with her grandmother, Mimi, in Lake Splendour, famous for sightings of a local legend:  the Lake Mermaid.  Many of the locals rely on this business to boost tourism, including Vivien’s grandmother, who runs Enchanted Tails.  However, there is stirring unrest about the upcoming Mermaid Festival and, in particular, the Mermaid Crown pageant which a group of students is determined to have banned.  This causes friction between Vivien and her best friend Eleni as she gravitates towards a group of activist students who are anti-mermaid, leaving Vivien feeling like an outsider.

After the disappointment of discovering that her mother, who she has not seen for three years, is no longer coming for a promised visit, Vivien finds herself looking after the shop when she meets the enigmatic, determined Alice DeLacey who reveals that she is convinced there is a dark mystery surrounding her family.  When Alice begs Vivien to help her solve the mystery, she is unable to resist the opportunity to form a new friendship and to seek the truth behind the mermaid legend, but has she dived into a whirlpool of trouble?

So begins an utterly gripping mystery which swirls and eddies with darkness, tension and danger as Vivien finds herself swept into Alice’s determined quest to unmask dark, family secrets hidden within a diary, but at what cost to their fledgling friendship?  How far will someone go to unearth the truth?  I was absolutely spellbound as I followed the unexpected twists and turns of this intriguing mystery which took me on a different journey to what I had expected, and it is all the richer for that.  I loved the interwoven strands of past and present within the story including those of activism and the suffragette movement, disappearances, family relationships, stereotypes and change.

Vivien is an incredibly sympathetic young girl who is on a journey towards finding herself as she deals with changes in friendships, low self-esteem linked to her relationship with her mother and feelings of awkwardness.  She shows great inner strength and courage in finding her voice, standing up for herself and others, and in challenging stereotypes.  The friendships, whether toxic, fractured or close, all felt really authentic and will shine a mirror on real-life friendship issues which many children may experience as they navigate the deep, sometimes turbulent, waters of changing relationships and being true to yourself.  I also really liked Erik who finds the courage to be true to himself in the most fantastic way!

The Mermaid Call is a powerful, gripping story of empowerment, transformation and revelation with deliciously unexpected twists that is sure to completely capture readers of 9+, not only with the intriguing mystery but also the empowering messages.

Thank you to Sian at Nosy Crow for sending me a proof in exchange for my honest opinion.

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’ve just started listening to Spellslinger on audiobook and I really think it’s going to be one I’ll enjoy. I’m also reading Children of the Quicksands which is set in Nigeria and linked to a myth. I’ve picked up The Wondrous Prune to read at school when the children in class are reading.

I’ve finished The Mermaid Call which I really enjoyed, especially the themes of activism, transformation and belonging. I’ll be posting my review shortly. I also read Orla and the Wild Hunt which will be a book of the year for me. I loved the links to Irish folklore and places and the writing style just kept me gripped throughout. I’ve posted my review.

I loved Carnival of the Lost, so I’m hoping to read Carnival of the Hunted next.

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

Blog Tour: Orla and the Wild Hunt

Written by Anna Hoghton
Cover illustration by David Dean
Published by Chicken House

Orla and the Wild Hunt absolutely sang to my heart, and will undoubtedly be one of my favourite books of the year, transporting me back to my Irish childhood when I devoured books with Irish folklore, but with a fresh twist that made this an unputdownable, magical read. 

13-year-old Orla and her younger brother, Apollo decide to come to spend time with their Gran in Ireland rather than go on holiday with their dad and his new fiancée to France.  They have only been to see their Gran once since the death of their mother two years before.  Orla hopes that a visit to her maternal Gran on the Emerald Isle will bring her comfort, and begin to fill the emptiness that grief has brought. 

They soon arrive at their Gran’s cottage on the edge of the Tangled Woods, but it is not long before Orla begins to wonder if her Gran is keeping secrets from them.  Why has she started to lock all doors and windows?  What creature does she keep locked in the shed?  Why does she keep a folder with details of the disappearances of local people?

When Gran sneaks out one night, Orla decides to follow her, but makes a terrible mistake, a mistake that leads to their beloved Gran being taken by creatures of shadow and darkness:  the Wild Hunt who feed on the grief and sadness of mortals.  The children have three days to rescue their Gran, or she will be lost to them forever …

With the help of the creature in the shed – a pooka – and a local boy, Conor, Orla and Apollo begin an exhilarating, action-packed, heart-racing quest to find their Gran, a quest that is brimming with danger, secrets and revelations.  There are dark moments, ominous meetings, but also a wonderful warmth to the narrative that took me on a real rollercoaster of emotions.

Be prepared to meet fairies, merrow, water sprite and even a giant, but who will be friend and who foe?  Irish folklore and mythology entwine perfectly with reality as the two siblings are taken on their own wild adventure, facing their grief and sadness, in their determination to save their Gran.  Will they find the strength and courage to overcome their greatest fears?  Can they outwit dangerous creatures who are intent on causing them harm?  Can they trust those they hope to call friends?

From up here, it was easy to see how beautiful and varied the island of Ireland was.  It was a land of contrasts:   of water and rock, stillness and movement, harsh and soft, howls and whispers.

I loved that the story is set in both Northern and Southern Ireland, both dear to my heart as I was born in Southern Ireland, but moved to Northern Ireland when I was eleven.  I particularly loved the mention of The Giant’s Causeway, one of my favourite places ever.  There is a real homage paid to the natural beauty of Ireland, and its rich tradition of folklore and mythology passed to generations through the tradition of oral storytelling and songs.  I also loved the dialects and turns of phrase as well as the genuine warmth, homeliness and sense of humour that really made me feel at home within this story.

Orla and Apollo are incredibly endearing characters who captured my heart.  Orla is struggling to deal with the pain of grief and has withdrawn from her friends and family, denying herself her love of music for fear of the painful memories it raises, and the guilt she feels at not being able to save her mother.  Apollo is kind-hearted, empathetic and clever, and sees the best in others.  Both children are courageous, determined and have a strong sibling bond which helps them face their fears.  Gran is a really special character who epitomises the straight-talking, kind-hearted, strong Irish grans with their love of storytelling and baking.  I loved that tiffins were Gran’s speciality as these are my favourite bakes!

Oh my!  What can I say about the pooka?  It is easily one of my new favourite characters! It is rude with an acerbic wit and is a genius at insults, yet with a heart of gold although I think the pooka may have something to say about that! 

Orla and the Wild Hunt is a truly heart-warming, mesmerising adventure where the strength of friendship and family shine through the darkness of grief and loss bringing hope, healing and love.  An unmissable adventure, perfect for readers of 9+.

Thank you to Laura Smythe PR and Chicken House for an early copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

WWW Wednesday

I’m currently reading The Mermaid Call which feels like its going to be a wonderfully dark, atmospheric mystery.

I finished reading The Blackthorn Branch which I really enjoyed. Cassie’s family are dealing with grief and her older brother, Byron, gets tempted into the world of the Fair Folk. I loved the twist in this story and the link with nature. I also finished listening to A Pocketful of Stars. Safiya has a fight with her mother who then suffers a stroke and ends up in a coma. Whilst visiting her mother in hospital, she finds herself transported into another world where she meets a familiar face. This one brought tears. I’m definitely now keen to pick up A Flash of Fireflies. I also read the second book in the Lightfall series, Shadow of the Bird which was a wonderful return to Irpa and Bea and Cad’s quest to defeat Kest. The illustrations are stunning. I also read the gorgeous Autumn Moonbeam which was such a magical, fun and playful book.

I’m hoping to read Orla and the Wild Hunt next.

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

Blog Tour: The Dragon in the Bookshop by Ewa Jozefkowicz

Written by Ewa Jozefkowicz
Cover illustration by Katy Riddell
Published by Zephyr
Books

I have read and loved all of Ewa’s books, so I am very excited to be part of the Blog Tour today for her latest book, The Dragon in the Bookshop, published on 7th July.

Thank you so much to Fritha Lindqvist and Zephyr Books for my invitation, and to Ewa for sharing the following piece, sharing books that she has loved over the years, which have a special healing power. I have followed Ewa’s piece with my Review of this wonderful story.

Ewa Jozefkowicz

The Dragon in the Bookshop features a dragon, a dinosaur, a lizard-loving girl and an old lady who rescues books and stores them in a cathedral turret. But it’s mostly a story about Kon, a twelve-year-old boy who is struggling after the loss of his dad. Kon’s experience is largely based on my own, as my own dad passed away when I was at secondary school.

At the time, I was lucky enough to have an incredible group of supportive friends, and a couple of teachers who went out of their way to check in on me. But I didn’t know anyone who had gone through the same experience as me. Here’s where books played a big part, because thanks to them I met many wonderful characters who I could empathise with. Below is a list of just some of the books I’ve loved over the years, which have a special healing power. It’s by no means an exhaustive list, and it’s one that I add to all the time!

Ostrich Boys by Keith Gray

Blake, Kenny, Sim and Ross are best mates. But one day, Ross is killed in a car accident and his friends are in pieces. At Ross’ funeral, they feel utterly ignored and they become furious with everyone who they feel hadn’t behaved well towards their friend. So they steal Ross’ ashes and they take him to Ross in Scotland, where they know their friend always wanted to go. Brilliantly moving and funny.

Skellig by David Almond

A beautiful story of hope in unlikely places. With a magical old man at its centre. When Michael moves to his new house and his baby sister falls ill, he begins to feel helpless. But then when he goes out to the old rickety garage in his garden, he finds a mysterious man living beneath the cobwebs and surviving on flies and takeaways. From that moment on, his world changes.

The Illustrated Mum by Jacqueline Wilson

Dolphin and Star live with their mum Marigold, who is exciting and unpredictable. Living with her often wild moods can be hard, and Dolphin begins to wonder whether she needs to look for someone who might provide a more stable home. She knows nothing about her dad (who is different from her older sister’s) but she makes it her mission to find him. A beautiful story about families, mental illness, hope and survival.

When The Sky Falls by Phil Earle

This is a recent favourite. A story of wartime difficulties, of unlikely friendships and the powerful bond between human and animal. Joseph is a troubled boy sent away by his grandmother to London to stay with her stern friend, Mrs. Farelly, the keeper of the local zoo. Joseph forms a close bond with Adonis, the only remaining gorilla at the zoo. The friendship helps him deal with many difficulties in his life, including the fact that his mum has abandoned him.

I would definitely recommend these to readers of all ages!

The Dragon in the Bookshop by Ewa Jozefkowicz (front cover illustration by Katy Riddell) is out on 7th July 2022 and will help promote Grief Encounter (www.griefencounter.org.uk) a wonderful charity that works with children who have lost someone they love.

Grief Encounter have a message for children and young people like Kon. As a charity they work closely with individuals, families, schools and professionals to offer a way through the anxiety, fear and isolation so often caused by the grief of losing someone close.

Grief Encounter provide immediate support with a FREEPHONE Grieftalk helpline 0808 802 0111 open Mon-Fri 9am-9pm, a live chat via their website or support by emailing grieftalk@griefencounter.org.uk.

Review

The Dragon in the Bookshop is a heartfelt and tenderly written story that weaves together legend and reality in a magical adventure about grief, friendship and finding your voice when you are lost.

Whilst exploring the Kent coastline, Konrad (Kon) finds a large fossilised footprint in the rock.  His initial bubble of excitement in wanting to share his discovery with his dad is burst when he remembers that his dad has died, and the pain of his loss comes flooding back. There are some really poignant moments as Kon reminisces about adventures with his dad who called him his ‘intrepid explorer’ interspersed with the depth of his grief. 

When Kon goes back to explore the headland after school, he meets Maya, who has moved to the area with her conservationist dad.  For the first time since the day after his father’s death over five months before, Kon finds his voice, and shares his father’s love of Polish legends with her.  This elicits an invitation to his father’s bookshop, A Likely Story, a place he has been unable to visit since his father’s death and which his mother may well have to sell.

As Kon begins to rediscover the magic of the bookshop with Maya, he finds a pile of books that his mum has left for him and, amongst them, is a beautiful, old book.  As he reads, Kon and Maya find themselves no longer in the bookshop, but in the middle of a legend, a legend where a dragon is terrorising the medieval town of Kraków, living in a cave beneath Wawel Castle.  Will the children find the courage to change the legend, to find their voices, and to hope for a return to happiness?

I loved this touching story, both poignant and warm, which deals with the different stages of grief with such sensitivity and honesty. I thought that the use of the dragon legend to explore loss, and the range of feelings that this can engender from anger and fear to sadness and loneliness, was perfectly portrayed as was the sense of hope and reconnection with family and friends. 

Both Kon and Maya have found their way into my heart.  Each is just what the other needs.  Maya has not been part of Kon’s life before he lost his father, and he feels able to talk to her, perhaps because she has no expectations of what his life was like before.  She is kind and empathetic, but is lonely as she has moved around with her family not making her own connections.  Kon is struggling to cope with the loss of his father who he clearly adored and with whom he had a shared love of beach exploration and stories.  Kon’s grief is trapped inside, like his voice, and he pushes others away from him as he tries to deal with his feelings of anger, guilt and pain. He shows great courage and strength in finding a way back to a life without his father, where he can enjoy cherished memories and allow others back into his life as he moves forward.

I also loved how this story is an ode to the magic of stories and bookshops.  I absolutely believe in the power of a great story to allow us to empathise, to understand ourselves and to find strength in the courage of others.  I just have to include a couple of my favourite bookish quotes:

Kon’s Dad: 

“You know, Kon, I believe that for every reader there is a character in a book somewhere that matches them almost exactly.  It’s just a case of finding them.”

Kon: 

“… in books I’d travelled all over the globe and into the past and the future too.  For intrepid explorers, books are stepping stones to so many places …”

The Dragon in the Bookshop is a beautifully poignant and hopeful allegory of grief, healing and reconnection, and a heartfelt ode to the magic of stories. A wonderful adventure for children of 9+.

Do check out these other stops on the Blog Tour:

Blog Tour: The Midnighters by Hana Tooke

Written by Hana Tooke
Illustrated by Ayesha L. Rubio
Published by Puffin Books

Adventures are best served with a drizzle of moonlight and a sprinkling of stars. 

The Midnighters is a mesmerising gothic adventure that swept me into a world brimming with wonderment, intrigue and anticipation that kept me utterly entranced throughout.

Prague, 1877:  Ema Vašková is the twelfth child born into a gifted, driven family of scientists, at the stroke of midnight on 12th December 1877 at the exact moment her grandmother, Liliana, dies.  Whilst she is loved and nurtured by her family, she does not find an accepted field of science in which to excel.  Instead, she has a sixth sense for predicting impending doom, a heightened fear of shadows and an uncanny ability to remain unnoticed by others:  abilities that make her feel lost and alone in a world that doesn’t understand her.

When Ema’s parents leave to join their eldest daughter on an expedition, 12-year-old Ema is sent to stay with her mother’s eccentric twin brother, Josef, where she is given her grandmother’s attic room.  At midnight, she looks across to the nearby window of the abandoned house opposite and meets Silvie, a mysterious, fearless girl with a heart for adventure, who promises to take Ema on secret midnight escapades to help conquer her fears.  The girls enjoy exciting monthly adventures across the city until the night Silvie disappears …

Ema is determined to search the city to find her friend and, when she uncovers a clue from Silvie, she is led to the spectacle of the Midnight Guild, a secret society under the city, and into the heart of a mesmerising mystery which pulsates with excitement, danger, twists and revelations.  Will Ema find the courage to face her fears and save her friend?  What secrets are so dangerous that someone may be prepared to murder to keep them hidden? 

I really enjoyed the dark, tense atmosphere with spine-tingling frissons of fear and a sense of almost unbearable anticipation as the mystery crescendoed. This darker mood is relieved with lighter tones as Ema and Silvie explore the city at night not to mention the wonderful Maine Coone, Ferkel, who causes mayhem for Josef – and plenty of baking opportunities!  And then there is the Midnight Guild:  breath-taking, dazzling and intriguing, but also rather intense and beguiling.

Ema is an incredibly sympathetic protagonist who struggles to find her place within her scientist family.  It is only when she meets Silvie, who believes in her, that she feels encouraged to overcome her fears as they build a trusting friendship and undertake daring midnight adventures.  Both girls are enigmas and I was just as entranced by Ema’s intuitiveness, curiosity and journey to self-discovery and acceptance as I was with unravelling Silvie’s secrets. 

The dustjacket and hardback cover illustrations are absolutely gorgeous and really capture the intrigue and wonder of Prague that is to be found within the pages of the adventure. Each chapter heading has a stunning, detailed oval miniature which complements the story perfectly.

The Midnighters is an exhilarating, spellbinding adventure of friendship, fearlessness and acceptance, perfect for readers of 9+.

Thank you so much to Kaleidoscopic Tours for inviting me to be part of the Blog Tour, and to Puffin Books for providing me with a gorgeous finished hardback copy of The Midnighters in exchange for my honest opinion.

Do check out the other stops on this week’s Blog Tour below:

June Wrap-Up

Oh my goodness! June has been a ridiculously busy month – school production, writing moderation, fundraising week, finishing reports, assessments – and even some actual teaching! But, I still managed to fit in some reading!

Books I’ve read:

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

NetGalley:

My Feedback Ratio is at 96%. I have requested and been approved for two books this month.

Books sent by publishers:

I have been lucky enough to have been sent these books by publishers this month.

Books bought:

I’ve bought 12 books this month. I’ve read some of these already. I read an e-book of Boy, Everywhere but wanted a physical copy for my class library. I supported the CharChar Literacy charity by buying a hardback copy of The Starspun Web which I have read in paperback, and a couple of other books.

How has your reading month been? Have you read any of these? Have you any of them on your TBR?