Tsunami Girl by Julian Sedgwick

So, I have finally reached the end of the Carnegie Shortlist, ending with Tsunami Girl by Julian Sedgwick.

This is a lovely book, told in part prose and part manga; an emotional and powerful story about Yuki Hare Jones and her journey of self-discovery and identity. Caught in the 2011 Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, her life is changed forever: it forces her to re-evaluate her identity and her life, starting a new journey of self-discovery and finding an inner strength she believed she had lost. Oh, and there is an imaginary superhero along the way, created through her art, that supports her with the challenges ahead.

Beautifully written and illustrated throughout, you follow Yuki on her amazing adventure. You will admire her grit and determination, and the inner stength that her creativity and beliefs give her. And, again, it is great to have a strong female lead character, even if she has challenges that she has to overcome first. It will help many readers understand that they are not alone, and that everyone has something or someone that gives them strength. And, well, as a big fan of ‘The Little Prince’, I am always happy to find a book with a fox as a supporting or central character (all this will be revealed if you pick up this book – which I am sure you will).

So, the important final question is: which book was my winner?

Like A Charm by Elle McNicoll

I was a huge fan of a ‘A Kind of Spark’ by Elle McNicoll, so when I knew that ‘Like a Charm’ had been published, I knew that I had to read it. (Especially as, again, the cover was absolutely beautiful and just makes you want to read it).

This is another brilliant read, a wonderful journey into fantasy rooted in the city of Edinburgh. Ramya Knox is drawn into this fantastical world as she discovers that her family have a few hidden secrets which connect them to that world. In fact, she soon becomes a symbol of hope for the Hidden Folk as they have to protect themselves from the Sirens, especially as Ramya appears to be resistant to their ‘charm’.

This is another story that celebrates difference, as Ramya discovers that the thing that makes her different is also the thing that makes her as special as she is. That, in fact allows her to help the Hidden Folk and find her special place in the world – and in her family.

I was gripped by this book and I am excited that Ramya’s tale will be continued for us all. It is wonderful that Elle McNicoll writes stories for young people with neurodivergent characters, as representation in literature is becoming ever-more important. We live in a wonderful world of difference, and we all need to be able to celebrate and understand these differences, and great stories are one way to support us all in being able to do that. And, when we see people in books that also help us understand ourselves or our experiences, then they become even more special to us – and that is what Elle McNicoll has done for so many young people with her books.

Mistletoe and Murder by Robin Stevens

Cosy crime is one of my favourite things about Christmas. So I chose some cosy crime for younger readers this time – although I believe we can all enjoy Children’s books, whatever age we are. It is perfect escapism (and I do wish these had existed when I was a child).

This time we are, as the title suggests, on a Christmas adventure with our two amateur detectives. Daisy and Hazel are spending Christmas in Cambridge with Daisy’s brother and Aunt. And, as you can imagine, they stumble on all sorts of mysteries, secrets and, of course, a murder…or two. And with a rival agency in town, too – who will solve the crime?

No spoilers here, but this was an incredibly fun read and it is always great to find strong female leads to inspire readers. I also thought that despite this being set in 1935, it did challenge some of the views that we would not accept now. It is always important to take lessons from books, too, and it is handled so well in these pages.

This is my secon ‘Murder Most Unladylike Mystery’, and I will definitely be returning (and reading them in the right order).

The Ghost of Gosswater by Lucy Strange

This could be one of my favourite reads of 2021 – even if I had left it on my shelf for a while. A classic ghost story for middle-grade readers – well, let’s be honest, for all fans of ghost stories.

Set in the wonderfully atmospheric Lake District, we find a family with dark secrets and a fascinating collection of characters. Some of them rather disagreeable and some of them rather wonderful, and inspirational in their way. Especially our fantastically fiesty and independent lead character Agatha Asquith; despite it being set in the past, she is a perfect hero for the modern reader.

This beautifully written novel is one that I want to share with readers of all ages. For the younger reader, it is a perfectly exciting ghost story, and for us ‘older’ readers – well, it offers exactly the same, with a touch of nostalgia.

Lucy Strange is quickly becoming one of my favourite authors because she writes the sort of books I would have adored when I was younger. And have seen that she has a new title heading our way very soon – and I can’t wait!

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?