A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll

I have had ‘A Kind of Spark’ on the tbr pile for quite some time. I am not sure why it took me so long to pick it up, but it becoming ‘Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2021’ overall winner certainly prompted me to pick it up.

This nook is certainly a worthy prize winner, and is one that I will be encouraging people to read, whatever their age.

Addie is fascinated by the tales of witch trials that took place in her village and nearby Edinburgh. She wants these women to be remembered because nobody should be treated badly just because they are ‘different’ or ‘misunderstood’. And Addie knows what that experience can be like, as she is autistic – and not everybody is willing to understand that.

Like all good books, this is not just a story but is also an education. The powerful descriptions of what life is like for an autistic child and young adult will really have people thinking and hopefully with some understanding.

If you can pick up a copy of this book please do – you won’t regret it.

Me, My Dad and the End of the Rainbow by Benjamin Dean

This is a beautiful book that can provide so much for children and adults alike.

Things are changing for Archie: his dad has moved out and his dad has a secret. When Archie accidentally overhears what that secret is, he knows life will never be the same again, but he is determined to help his dad be happy. With the help of his two best friendsm Seb and Bell, he thinks he can his dad find happiness at the end of a brilliantly colourful rainbow.

This adventure takes the three friends to London Pride, where they find a whole host of brilliant characters who help them discover the answers that they are looking for. And they realise that change doesn’t have to be a bad thing, and difference deserves to be celebrated at all ages.

This is such a happy book with a wonderful and supportive message for people of all ages about how we live in a wonderfully colourful world, which we should all be supporting and celebrating. This is the sort of book I wish was around when I was growing up, because it is just a perfect story.

The Good Thieves by Katherine Rundell

I was very kindlu gifted a copy of Katherine Rundell’s new book by Tandem Collective UK. This was one that I was very keen to read, as I think Rundell writes fantastic adventure stories for children. And, an early bold statement, I think this is my favourite so far.

‘The Good Thieves’ whisks you to twenties New York, an era that has always fascinated me. Vita wants to set things right as her Grandfather has been cheated out of his beloved home by a local ‘gangster’. Vita fearlessly gathers together a group of talented friends to help her carry out her incredible plan.

This is quite an edge-of-your-seat adventure as Vita and her new friends attempt to take on Sorrotore and his men. There are twists and turns that will keep you turning the page and wishing you could join them for the adventure. It is also a book that proves you should never let things put you off aiming for your dreams.

For me, this was just a beautifully crafted story full of adventure, hope and love. So, if you or someone you know loves a classic adventure story, then this is the book to pick up. Especially as the illustrations are wonderful too – really taking you on an armchair adventure.

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 End of 2019

It may be the first day of 2020 but, with festive days having been full of excitement, I have missed a round-up of the final books of 2019.

So here we go…

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

This book crossed over from my ‘Non-fiction November’ into December. ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ is a book that I have always wanted to read but it had never quite happened.

However, this is a book that I feel many of us should read. This is not just a memoir of Maya growing up in America, but it is a study of the society and culture at the time too. It tackles some uncomfortable issues – but that is the tale of the young girl’s life, however hard it may be for us to read.

This book is an inspiration, and I am keen to read the books that follow, to learn more about this inspirational lady.

Murder at Christmas

I enjoy a festive read and I enjoy a murder mystery – so this seemed a winning combination.

A collection of short stories – classic crime capers. Some were stronger than others as tales. However, overall it was an enjoyable collection of tales for these winter nights.

The Truth Pixie Goes to School by Matt Haig

Matt Haig is a writer that I admire for a number of reasons – but one of those reasons is that he can turn his hand to writing for both adults and children.

As I purchased this book, the bookseller also mentioned that he was a Matt Haig fan, but that this book may be too young for him. I tolf him that was not true, as I think anyone can enjoy these books about the Truth Pixie. They contain ideas and themes that we should all take note of.

Told in rhyme and supported with the illustrations of Chris Mould, this book is good fun for all ages, as we have all needed the friendship of the Truth Pixie from time to time.

Let It Snow

Having watched the Netflix Original Film and always enjoying some YA fiction, I have this book a read for the festive season.

A collection of three tales by three different authors, but all centred around the same town. Love and friendship are the main themes of all the tales. It is a nice read for the festive season and will inject you with the spirit of Christmas – and the desire for a white Christmas.

Death Comes as the End by Agatha Christie

Maidens of Murder December pick.

This may not be a traditional setting for a Christie novel – Ancient Egypt. However, it has all the other elements of a classic Christie novel. An enjoyable read as the tale unravels – I do not want to give any spoilers.

My only slight issue as a reader was getting my around all the names of the characters – but that was probably just me.

Peter Pan by J.M Barrie

A classic that I am not sure I have ever read – why not? Who knows? I saved this until December because I feel it is a really festive tale, maybe because it is now a classic pantomime.

This book was an absolute joy, as I knew it would be. There is adventure, heroes and villains, and a little bit of magic. It is just a wonderful tale – and makes you appreciate the importance of family and friends at all times.

Som there we are; quite a collection, there was one more but that will have a post of its own – as bookstagram made me do it.

Happy New Year – here is to happy 2020 reading!

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!