Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

This is a book that I picked up after attending a book event where Aisha Saeed spoke with Becky Albertalli about their co-authored book ‘Yes No Maybe So’. I had not encountered Aisha Saeed before as an author, but she was so engaging when she spoke and, clearly, loves to write, that I was encouraged to give her novel a go.

Amal has dreams of becoming a teacher, she loves to learn and she loves to read. But society has other ideas, she lives in a very patriarchal society and a village that appears to be run by those who have money – and not those who work hard in the community to make a living. After an accidental encounter with the rich Khan family Amal finds her life changes and her dreams appear to disappear. However, could she still be in control of her future, with a little help from her friends?

This book is engaging and written in a very readable style. It would be a great book for secondary school-aged readers. It really encourages you to think about some of the traditional roles that can be outlined for men and women without any discussion or chance for the moulds to be broken. But, in fact, inside us all, is there the spirit to force change and really take control of our destinies?

I really enjoyed this book, and it was a chance to discover another new author.

Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens

Before I start my ‘review’, or humble opinion, of this book, I have a little anecdote. I was reading this book on the train and it sparked a conversation. A lady told me that her friend was the author of the book – and, in fact, she was the author Helen Moss (Adventure Island Series, among others). We had a lovely chat, with another lady also, about books, encouraging reading and a reading scheme in prisons. A brief but great chat.

So, back to ‘Murder Most Unladylike’, I am clearly not the target audience, but these books had been catching my eye for a while and I was lucky enough to receive one in a bookswap. This is the first in a series, and I will be reading more, of crime capers involving the pupils of Deepdean School for Girls. Daisy and Hazel set up a secret detective agency, but there have not been many real crimes to investigate – until Hazel stumbles across the body of Miss Bell. Well, she is convinced she did but, apparently, Miss Bell has just resigned… Daist and Hazel know that this can not be true, but how do they prove it?

This book is such good fun. It has all the magic of the classic boarding school stories, such as the Chalet School, and the classic crime ingredients of the greats, such as Agatha Christie.

Beautfully written. it is engaging for all readers; you want to know ‘whodunnit’. Although Daisy is clearly a little bit of a dominant character, Hazel has the classic crime-solving skills. Together, they complement each other – a little like Holmes and Watson.

So, if you, or a reader you know, enjoys a good crime puzzle, then pick up ‘Murder Most Unladylike’ and start a whole new set of adventures.

The Kane Chronicles: The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan

From the pen of the author who gave us Percy Jackson is another adventure based on the mythology of ancient civilisations. This time, we are immersed in the beliefs of the Ancient Egyptians. Our heroes, Sadie and Carter, are connected to gods of the ancient world in way they never knew.

Of course, after a visit to the British Museum on Christmas Eve does not quite go as they expect, Sadie and Carters world is turned upside down. They find themselves on quite the mission to prevent Set from unleashing chaos on the world. Of course, they have to meet a real collection of characters from the ancient world and make some quick decisions about how they can save the world.

Magic, mystery and history are all entwined to create a great adventure. For me, although I am not the target audience, the start and end are strong but at times the middle was a little slow. Yet, this was a book I was encouraged to read and I do think it could get some reluctant readers to pick up a book. After all, who doesn’t wish they can go on a huge adventure and discover that they, in fact, have royal blood?

Worzel Gummidge by Barbara Euphan Todd

One of the lovely things about Christmas is that it brings people together and creates memories. A very happy memory of this Christmas for me was us all watching the new adaptation of ‘Worzel Gummidge’ together. It was just a joyful piece of television and we all hope that there will be more episodes to come.

However, this also prompted me to read the book. What a joy that is, too! This was a lovely read to start 2020 with. A classic Children’s book, with the loveable scarecrow, a touch of magic and a great collection of characters. Susan, John and Worzel Gummidge have some great adventures in the countryside.

This is a traditional tale of simpler times – there is something very nostalgic about the book, which adds to its charm. It is really rather refreshing.

So, why not go and rediscover a classic whatever your age because sometimes all we need is the simple things in life.

The Conspiracy of Magic by Harriet Whitehorn

Before I can even comment on the novel, I have to talk about the cover of ‘The Conspiracy of Magic’. It has a cover that makes me want to not only read the book, but become part of the tale. (Even if ice skating is not my strong point, but that is part of the joy of reading – you can do anything).

I was lucky enough to be given the chance to review ‘The Conspiracy of Magic’ by Harriet Whitehorn thanks to the fabulous Dark Room Tours. And I am so glad I had that chance.

This book has everything that a great story should have. As the title suggests, there is magic, adventure, intrigue – and, most importantly, a strong female lead in Cass. An obtuse (not affected by magic), in a world where magic is considered dangerous, as it is powerful. Which, of course, is something that does not go down well with all the residents, and magical forces start to target the royal party that Cass is charged with protecting. This leads Cass on quite an adventure, encountering a collection of colourful characters along the way.

For me, I really enjoyed that the strength for Cass comes from the fact that she isn’t magical. She has to rely on her wits and strength to protect and fight for what she loves.

It reminded me of classic adventure tales, full of great characters, magical settings, as well as humour and emotion. Certainly the sort of book you can imagine diving into and fighting alongside the characters in a classic tale of good versus bad.

This novel is a sequel, the second in the ‘The Company of Eight’ series, however it can be read as a standalone book without any impact on enjoyment. Although, you will want to read more.

So, if you are a fan of adventure, whatever your age, then pick this book up. It would also make a fantastic Christmas gift for avid middle-grade readers.

Go on, try something new!

Evie and the Animals by Matt Haig

I am always in awe of those authors who show their talents in so many different ways – Matt Haig is one of those authors. Haig can write with such style, not just for adults but also for children (and even then he can adapt his style).

‘Evie and the Animals’ is a book I believe was inspired by his daughter’s love of animals. It is a great story – in my opinion, for all ages – of a girl who has a love of animals and a special talent that allows them to communicate with her, and vice versa. There is a wonderful emphasis on the importance being special in your own way – that there is no need to try and be like everyone else.

Evie can gather great strength when she knows the truth about her past. And she goes on to use that to save those that she loves – human and animal alike.

This is a glorious adventure with brilliant illustrations from Emily Gravett, which bring even more life to this novel.

We should all remember that we have our own special talents and that they make us the individuals we are today.

Tilly and the Lost Fairytales by Anna James

This is a book that I could not wait to read, having read the first one earlier this year. And this book did not disappoint at all.

Anna James has created the best world for bookworms young and old. As Tilly and her best friend Oskar are bookwanderers and enter books, make friends with characters, and go on adventures. However, as with all great stories, there is an element of danger and mystery along the way.

This time, Tilly and Oskar find themselves caught up in fairy tales. An unusual story, as they do not always have a clear original source but they still hold all the magic of stories. They are a little bit of a mystery but certainly need to be saved for everyone to enjoy. Even if there are those who simply want the magic for themselves.

I genuinely adore these novels; I feel they are like my ultimate fantasy book. We all enter stories every time we open our books and let our imagination take us in an adventure – but, let’s be honest, we would all like characters to really be our friends.

Even better, this is a book that sparked a conversation between me and a bookseller as we discussed how fabulous Anna James’ tales are (and, if I am honest, neither of us are the target audience).

The illustrations and presentation od thse books are stunning, and I can not wait until we go on another adventure with Tilly.

The Way Past Winter by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

So, the first book of 2019 is completed. It was a gem to start the year – especially as we are all probably looking for a way past winter as we enter January.

Although we all know we should not judge a book by its cover, how can you not be drawn to this stunning cover? Classical and stylish in white, gold and green, it oozes winter fantasy. There is also the figure of the girl which is another delight of this novel: strong female leads (well, they do not have a choice, as all the boys appear to be mysteriously disappearing).

The story is set in perpetual winter, the only season many have known, with spring and summer almost a myth. Mila and her sisters have already lost their father in a mysterious disappearance that, when their brother, Oskar, also disappears on the same night the family have some strange visitors, they decide something is to be done. It leads them on a magical adventure with Rune, the boy mage.

This is a beautifully written tale that whisks you off on a fantastical adventure. Strong female leads can give inspiration to many young readers – after all, we can all go on adventures in our own way.

Which book have you started your 2019 reads with?

Tin by Padraig Kenny

Apologies for the delay in blog posts – technical issues meant that everything slowed. However, now we are back in business and we start with ‘Tin’. My lovely friend suggested that this may be a book I would enjoy, so I gave it a go.

The concept was an interesting one – a world of humans loving alongside a world of mechanicals. In some cases, it is difficult to tell them apart – in fact mechanicals are almost seen as a replacement for some lost ones.

However, what really struck me about this novel was its comment on war and the struggle for power that can come with this. The conflict that comes with having a machine that can end war but also the moral dilemma of the additional issues this causes. Now, I may have read too much into this as a children’s novel, but this is why I enjoy books of all genres for all ages as they can be enjoyed and interpreted in so many ways. This, of course, is why reading is the gift that keeps giving.

Additionally, the characters in this book bring some wonderful humour to the story (despite the very serious messages I have suggested it carries). It is an enjoyable read. Another great discovery for 2018.

Fantastically Great Women by Kate Pankhurst

Adventures With One of Each recently tagged me in a photo of ‘Fantastically Great Women who made History’ because she thought it would be a book I would enjoy. She was not wrong! (And, of course, I could not read just one of the titles in the series.)

I felt that there was no better day to share my thoughts on both of the ‘Fantastically Great Women’ books, than International Women’s Day. These two titles for children are two books that between them keep 26 fabulous women in the limelight. One of the best things about these books is that they do not focus on the ‘obvious’ candidates. There have, of course, been so many women throughout history who have achieved so much, but some who made history are often still in the thoughts of the public. However, there are others who have not quite been as instilled in our history and they may be slipping the mind of the public as ‘Great Women’.

I wanted to pick 5 women from the pages who I find an inspiration.

  1. Mary Seacole – I did a little squeal of joy when I found her in amongst the pages. A contemporary of Florence Nightingale, Mother Seacole does not always have the same airtime as a heroine of the Crimea.
  2. Sacagawea – This was a great woman that I did not know about until these books. Sacagawea worked as a guide and a translator for the Lewis and Clark (European Settlers) as they attempted to travel the Rocky Mountains. Her work resulted in her being seen as an equal to Lewis and Clark.
  3. Ada Lovelace – The amazing, inventive mind of Ada Lovelace dreamed up a whole collection of wonderful machines. She was really quite ahead of her time.
  4. Mary Shelley – As a big fan of the story of Frankenstein, I have an admiration for Shelley and her imagination. The tale has an important message about the fears of science and how we treat each other. It takes quite a lot of talent to write a tale that is still so highly regarded today.
  5. Agent Fifi – This lady and her work really made me smile. Who does not dream about being an undercover agent? Agent Fifi really does prove that women can be exactly what they want to be (and so much more).

So, if you want to be inspired, these beautifully written and illustrated stories of ‘Great Women’ are the books for you – and all the other strong girls you know!

Happy International Women’s Day!