A Place Called Perfect by Helen Duggan

Now, you should not judge a book by its cover, but this book has one of the most beautiful and intriguing covers I have ever seen. So, when it was the Waterstones children’s book of the month last month, I had to read it.

From page one, I was hooked; I knew it was going to be an adventure that I wanted to be part of. From the moment Violet and her family arrive at Perfect, there is a sense that it may not live up to its name. The rose-tinted view that all the residents have thanks to glasses that they all wear simply does not seem to be shared by Violet (she was perfectly happy with the life she had), especially after her father disappears. Once she meets Boy, the adventures really pick up pace as they work to prove that things do not need to be ‘perfect’ to be exactly what they need. It is a tale that proves that a little love for family, and determination, can defeat evil.

This reminded me of the classic tales of authors like Neil Gaiman. A good collection of characters, some we like and some we don’t, but ultimately a tale that stays with you a long time after you read the last word.

After all, do we really want everything to be perfect?

Goth Girl and the Sinister Symphony by Chris Riddell

I am a HUGE Goth Girl fan and when I spotted a copy of The Sinister Symphony in Waterstones when I needed an emergency book for a train journey, I was so excited and had to purchase it immediately.

Reuniting with Ada Goth and her pals is liking meeting with old and new friends. I am far older than the target audience of this book, but the charm of Chris Riddell’s creations is that the humour works on so many levels. He certainly writes jokes in there for the older readers as much as he does for the target audience. (I may have caught myself laughing out loud at points and that can be a little embarrassing as you sit on a busy train from London.) There are wonderful little comments on society and clever plays on words throughout, which are nods to the world we live in and some of the characters from popular culture.

Ada’s latest adventure takes place at a music festival organised by Lord Goth in the grounds of Ghastly-Gorm Hall. There are the usual giggles along the way as Ada tries to keep all her plans for her father and his future happiness on the right path.  There was real happiness for me in this tale as there were nods to Narnia (and a surprise addition at the back of the book), which is one my favourite books from my childhood.

As usual, the book is beautifully presented with Chris Riddell’s stunning illustrations throughout, which bring each character to life for the reader. I was smiling a bit like a fool as I turned each page, as you can not help but be cheered by what you see on each page.

I am so pleased that I can add this to my collection of Goth Girl books and urge you all, young and old, to go on an adventure with Ada and The Attic Club – you will not regret it.

Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett

I saw an article not so long ago that suggested that there were not enough lead female characters in children’s fiction, but yet again I have stumbled across another: Tiffany Aching is one of the most fabulous female lead characters I have encountered.

Tiffany encompasses the idea that girls can be courageous and ambitious and will not let the world that they live in hold them back. In fact, it was interesting at the end of the tale that Pratchett highlighted the fact that successful and heroic females do not always get the recognition that they deserve, but they are confident enough in their own abilities that they do not need public adoration.

As I am sure you can see, I loved reading ‘Wee Free Men’. There was a charm to the book from the moment you picked it up. It was full of Pratchett’s usual wit and humour that works on so many levels (adults can always enjoy his children’s books as much as his target audience) and the voice that he gave the ‘pictsies’ was spot on. I often found myself chuckling as I heard their ‘wee’ Scottish voices throughout the novel.

The foe of Tiffany is the ‘Queen’, who kidnaps her younger brother. With the help of the pictsies and a mildly grumpy toad, Tiffany has to fight the dreams that the Queen creates for her to try and get her brother home. Her inspiration throughout is Granny Aching, who she gets her strength of character from. It is quite an adventure for all involved.

So, I think I may have found one of my new favourite characters, as it is rather a lot of fun to join Tiffany on her adventures.

Witch for a Week by Kaye Umansky

When I found out that Ashley King was illustrating a book for Kaye Umansky, I did a little squeal of joy. Growing up I was a massive ‘Pongwiffy’ fan; Kaye Umansky’s books were staple reading for my sister and I (and even my mum). So, when I saw that there was a new title and a wonderful collaboration between these two, I had to read it.

‘Witch for a Week’ is out in October, just in time for Halloween, but I have been lucky enough to have a sneak peek and I loved it. It was great to revisit the writing of Kaye Umansky, accompanied by the illustrations of Ashley King.

Elsie Pickle is a lovely heroine who takes on the job of temporary caretaker of the ‘Tower in the Forest’ for the local witch, Magenta Sharp. Along with a wonderful little collection of characters, including a talking raven and a rather hapless, scruffy dog, she embarks on quite an adventure. Elsie is a determined young lady who uses her skills in customer service (thanks to the family shop) and the guidance offered by the handbook ‘Everything You Need to Know’ to tackle whatever the ‘Tower in the Forest’ and the rather interesting locals throw at her.

There is so much humour and warmth in this book, just as I knew there would be. You can not help but wish you were part of the adventures. The illustrations really bring the characters to life, their personalities shining through in each drawing. This is a book that children and adults alike are going to enjoy reading.

So, make sure you give this book a go and find out if you have what it takes to be ‘Witch for a Week’. Thank you Ash for giving me the chance to find out!

 

The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

I am not always one that selects prize-winning titles, but this is a well-deserving winner of the Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize 2017.

The art work on the cover of this book is absolutely stunning and immediately catches your eye, even before you reach the magical sounding title. This is a story that takes you on a real adventure and, most importantly, there is wonderfully strong and independent female lead character in Isabella. She is a girl who will fight with real courage and fierce loyalty for the people she loves and the beliefs that are important to her.

When Lupe, Isabella’s best friend, goes missing, it is Isabella who uses her great knowledge of the stars and maps to support the search party. As you follow the characters on their adventures, there is a great use of myths and stories to influence the decisions made by those living on the island. It really reflects on how the ideas that can be with a nation of people for as long as they can remember, passed on to each generation, can lead some to have fear and misunderstanding and others to have the courage to fight for what they care for. You see the characters really form as each part of their adventure influences them personally.

You are on the edge of your seat throughout the story, never sure what is going to come next. You feel the danger and excitement as you turn each page; it is impossible to put this novel down. It may be a children’s book, but it is one that adults will enjoy just as much.

The Bookshop Girl by Sylvia Bishop

I was once lucky enough to be a bookshop girl for one year between studying. Therefore, I was instantly drawn to this book – and even more so because of the stunning cover courtesy of the very talented Ashley King.

There is something about this magical tale that reminded me of the favourite stories of my childhood. There is something almost Roald Dahl-like about this adventure, with its wonderful characters. They are colourful and instantly spark your imagination, and are brought to life throughout the book with beautiful illustrations.

The main setting of ‘The Great Montgomery Book Emporium’ is somewhere that I would absolutely love to visit. So many books and so many adventures facing anybody who sets foot in there – it’s delightful. It also emphasises the real pleasure that books can bring an
ybody that is around them. However, the bookshop at the start of the story, ‘The White Hart Bookshop’ (it was a pub in the previous life, after all), is full of charm too.

From the moment you start this charming tale by Sylvia Bishop, it is so difficult to put down, as you are just rooting for the Jones family to have a happy ending.