Three Festive Reads…so far!

I love a theme or a focus when I pick my reads. In June, I ‘Read with Pride’; in November, it was about ‘Non-fiction’, and December is all about festive reads.

So, I have started with three quick reads (not at all motivated by the fact that I do not want to fail at my Goodreads target) and every one has created fantastic festive feels in different ways.

Father Christmas’s Fake Beard by Terry Pratchett

This book was an impulse buy a few weeks ago. The title contained Christmas and the author is Terry Pratchett, so I thought it was a win-win situation, and it was.

This collection of short stories, all based around Christmas, is full of wit and humour. They really reminded me of the tales of Roald Dahl, which made me happy because those were always favourites growing up.

This is a fantastic book for readers of all ages who want some Christmas spirit.

Twas the Nightshift Before Christmas by Adam Kay

‘This is Going to Hurt’ has been quite the runaway hit in the book world. So, this festive ‘sequel’, which focuses fully on five Christmas shifts, is a gem.

Although some have referred to this as more of the same, I feel that is what makes it work. What I always think is important about these books is that it highlights the work of the NHS at this time of year. Things don’t stop (and thnak goodness for that), and life carries on as it needs to.

There is humour and sadness among these pages – and quite a study of human nature at times. And, for me, a real appreciation of the work of every member of the NHS, whtever the time of year.

The Snowman by Michael Morpurgo

Yes, that is by Michael Morpurgo and not Raymond Briggs, but this was done with the original author’s blessing.

This is not a retelling; after all, the original story is a picture book. For me, this is an intepretation of the tale, even making it more festive.

James is a boy who feels he does not quite fit in with everyone else. His stutter seems to hold him back. However, when he meets or makes The Snowman, combined with the magic of Christmas, things appear to change.

This book is great for those of us who grew up with the original. Also, it is a chance to introduce the tale to a whole new generation. So, spread the joy and grab a copy of this gem.

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.

Reading for Pride Month

I have decided that I wanted to try and complete June reading books to celebrate Pride month. This, of course, does not mean I do not read books with LGBTQ+ characters or themes the rest of the year, but it has been good to have a focus this month.

I have based all my choices on books that I have seen on Instagram or in the press. I did not read what they are about before I start, but just dived right in to find out more.

Unintentionally, the first two titles I chose had the same theme, and it has been fascinating to see how two different authors have handled the same theme.

First up is ‘My Brother’s Name is Jessica’ by John Boyne. Aimed at 9-12 year olds this book tackles the issue of Sam having to understand his brother’s desire to transition to become his sister – the person she believes she should always have been.

I was really pleased to find a novel that tackled such a subject for younger readers. Boyne tackles not only the emotions that Sam goes through, but also for so many different people that are impacted by Jason’s secret. You go on an important journey of self-discovery with all all the characters and I am not ashamed to say that I shed a tear or two as I reached the story’s conclusion. Boyne’s writing is so engaging that this was a novel that I struggled to put down.

My second novel this month was ‘Birthday’ by Meredith Russo. This has a similar theme as ‘My Brother’s Name is Jessica’ but is a YA novel. Morgan and Eric have spent every birthday together and have grown up together. However, Morgan has been struggling with a decision: should she live as her true self and will she be accepted if she does? Aimed at older readers, this novel is grittier at times and full of raw emotion. I felt as though I was living every emotion that Morgan and Eric were. And, there are some twists in this tale which make this book a gem and one of the happiest endings I have read in a while. (Although it is an emotional roller coaster).

It is great that there are now so many more books with a diverse set of characters and story lines for younger readers.

Have you read with Pride this month? Any recommendations?

The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q. Rauf

This book needs to be on every bookshelf in the country. This has to be one of the most wonderful stories I have ever read.

Onjali Q. Rauf has written the Children’s book that needed writing – I could not believe how easily accessiable she has made the issue that she tackles in this novel.

Through the innocent eyes of nine-year-olds, we meet Ahmet – a young refugee boy who is running away from the bullies. And all our young heroes want to do is help him find his family. The most wonderful adventure then unfolds as they attempt to ensure no borders are closed before Ahmet is reunited with his family.

This tale will make you smile and it will make you cry. Tears of happiness as well as of sadness. And this book will stay with you long after you have read the final words.

The thing that made this novel was the fact that the children who befriended Ahmet saw nothing but a friend who needed help, without being influenced by any opinions of others. It also makes it so clear that we can all learn so much from each other and that a multicultural society is one of the best gifts that we have.

This book truly deserved to be a ‘Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize’ winner – but it should never only be read by children. It is a gift that should be read by all to remind us that, metaphorically, we should all make friends with the boy or girl at the back of the class.

Pages and Co – Tilly and the Bookwanderers by Anna Jones

I think I may have found my book of the year (although I did purchase at the end of last year) and, yes, it is Children’s novel, and I have no problem with that at all. ‘Tilly and the Bookwanderers’ will speak to any bookworm or anybody who loved books as a child.

I want to be Tilly because she is a Bookwanderer – and lives in a bookshop – what more could a bibliophile want? Tilly does not just read books – she enters them!! Tilly, and her friend Oskar, really end up in Avonlea with Anne (that’s with an ‘e’) among other fantastic places we encounter through novels. Of course, this wonderful chance for adventure does not come without its risks and dangers. That does not hold back our two adventurers from trying to discover the family secret that has hovered over Tilly all her life. And, of course, there is a shady character in the background attempting to thwart Tilly and Oskar in their mission.

Everything about this book is perfect. The illustrations by Paolo Escabor are delightful and represent the characters and events perfectly. Also, the font and typesetting throughout the novel is used to express some of the events and emotions as you read them. Thus just adds to how delightful this book is to read.

However, what really strikes me about this beautiful book is how much I agree with all the references to how important it is to read and enjoy books as individuals. Yet it is also clear that the enjoyment of books can bring people together too.

So, please, whatever your age, seek out this novel and remind yourself why you fell in love with reading in the first place.

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?

The Truth Pixie by Matt Haig

2018 has been a funny old year so far, but one constant has been my enjoyment of books by Matt Haig, both fictional and factual. I did, in fact, read his Children’s Christmas fiction first and was intrigued when this year he released his first Children’s book that really tackled those issues he can be so outspoken about on social media.

Although ‘The Truth Pixie’ is a Children’s book it is a book, I think everyone should read it. The Truth Pixie is a little bit of an unhappy soul at the start of the book. However, her chance encounter with a little girl who is finding things tough helps them both find some happiness. In fact, the truth our pixie friends speaks is a truth about life that we should all try to learn from.

This book, for me, was not only a beautiful read from cover to cover, with great illustrations from Chris Mould, but will also be a little reference guide. You can turn to a number of pages and you will find a spark of inspiration or motivation for any number of difficult situations.

So, I urge adults and children alike to read this book – or why not read it together? After all, most of my fondest memories with those I love are of when we shared a book together!

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.