New review: The Song from Somewhere Else by A.F. Harrold illustrated by Levi Pinfold

I was delighted to receive the beautiful paperback version of this book holding the wonderfully quirky tale of Frank and Nick and some very strange music.  This is another fantastic story by A.F. Harrold that warms the heart and stirs the imagination, with incredible illustrations by Levi Pinfold.

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The Song from Somewhere Else by A.F .Harrold illustrated by Levi Pinfold

The last person Frank wants to be rescued by is Nick Underbridge. No one likes Nick. He’s big, he’s weird and he smells – or so everyone in Frank’s class thinks.  And yet, there’s something nice about him, and the strange music that plays in his house.  Something that makes Frank feel happy for the first time in forever.  But there’s more to Nick, and to his house, than meets the eye, and soon Frank realises she isn’t the only one keeping secrets. Or the only one who needs help…..

The Song from SomewhereElse is a beautifully written tale about friendship, family and belonging. Frank has suffered at the hands of bullies for as long as she can remember. With a persistently irritating Dad who just doesn’t ‘get’ things and a Mum who is always working, Frank is often on her own trying to avoid the vile Neil Noble and his two cronies, who delight in tormenting her.  One day when the strange and friendless Nick comes to her rescue, a new friendship begins.  This is utterly believable and described with the perfect amount of awkwardness and tentative steps as both Frank and Nick slowly begin to relate to each other. Frank finds herself oddly comforted by Nick and his home, especially when she discovers ethereal music coming from his cellar.  Strange secrets are revealed and while the world around her makes less and less sense, Frank realises she is not the only one who suffers. Her curiosity is palpable and whilst her choices lead to a troubling outcome, you can’t help but empathise with her.

The narrative is gentle but depicts the harsh reality of being bullied and resulting consequences. The beautiful illustrations capture the story’s other-worldliness and the fantasy elements perfectly. I found myself transported into Frank’s adolescent world feeling her worry; her fascination with the music she hears and her constant conscience driving her decisions.   The Song from Somewhere Else weaves a clever plot and at its heart it’s a timeless lyrical story about belonging, friendship and bearing the consequences of our choices.

The Song from Somewhere Else is published by Bloomsbury With thanks to Bloomsbury for sending me this book to review.

Find out more at www.afharroldkids.com and www.levipinfold.com

New review: Sleeper by J D Fennell

This novel had been sat on my to be read pile for some time so I’m glad I finally read it. It’s definitely one to recommend; an edge-of-your seat thriller set in wartime London with plenty of plot twists to keep you guessing.

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Sleeper by J D Fennell

Sixteen-year-old Will Starling is pulled from the sea with no memory of his past. In his blazer is a strange notebook with a bullet lodged inside it: a bullet meant for him. As London prepares for the Blitz, Will soon finds himself pursued by vicious agents and a ruthless killer known as the Pastor. All of them want Will’s notebook and will do anything to get it.

Sleeper is a fantastic gripping read set in World War 2 and featuring a brave hero, Will, who has lost his memory.  The reader is shown the precursor to this memory loss and then follows Will on his journey desperately trying to rediscover who he really is.  Fraught with danger and deception and villains at every corner,  Sleeper is a roller-coaster ride through the streets of wartime London. At every turn Will loses those who want to help him to ruthless killers – in particular the evil Pastor; a quite horrible character! Will follows the only clue he has and ends up at a school for young Mi5 agents in training.

But even then he is not safe and only as he escapes yet another attack does Will find a true ally in the shape of Anna. With her help he begins to understand who he really is and the mission he must complete in order to save, not just himself and Anna, but the whole of London from the Nazis. I enjoyed the wide cast of characters and never knowing quite who was on Will’s side. Weaving history with magical realism and a spy thriller narrative, the story has plenty of fantastic action sequences.  Sleeper has deservedly been nominated for the Amazing Book Awards and I wish the author every success with this fantastic debut novel.

Sleeper is published by the Dome Press. With thanks to The Dome Press for sending me this book to review.

New review: The Land of Neverendings by Kate Saunders

I’ve enjoyed many of Kate Saunders books for children – this one is no exception and I’d thoroughly recommend it. Poignant, heart-warming and full of creativity The Land of Neverendings is a great read.

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The Land of Neverendings by Kate Saunders

The cat flap opened. Emily thought a wild animal was coming into the house. But the muddy creature that climbed through had four little wheels and a tail. It spoke in a voice like rough sandpaper. ‘Come on, you two – it’s nice and warm in here.’ What if there exists a world powered by imagination? A world of silliness, where humans and their toys live on long after they’ve left the Hard World . . . and what if the door between that world and this one was broken? Welcome to the Land of Neverendings.

The Land of Neverendings is moving story about a young girl Emily, whose disabled sister Holly dies, leaving her family bereft and Emily lost in a world of grief and imagination.  I hadn’t been expecting this narrative but the best stories are the ones that surprise you and this one did. I’ve always loved the idea of toys coming to life and being able to chat away with your favourite teddy bear would be just brilliant.  After her sister dies, Emily starts a journal to help her capture her memories; the more she recalls about the fun times she, Holly and Holly’s favourite toy Bluey had, the more the two worlds collide. It seems the magical world Emily created through the stories she told her sister, Smockeroon, really does exists as do the toys that live in it. And somehow the door has opened to this world, something she can only share with her babysitter Ruth, who suddenly finds she can also see and hear the toys.  For Ruth too has lost someone she loves and knows exactly how Emily feels.

The relationship between Emily and Ruth is just lovely. As Emily experiences the varying degrees of sadness, anger and even difficulties with her parents and friends who can’t deal with the death of her sister any more than she can, she is able to share all of this with Ruth who is conveniently on hand with chocolate biscuits and cups of tea. The magical narrative full of original ideas, lightens the story and creates opportunities for lots of laughs. With a host of enchanting characters including the Barbie dolls (hilarious) and soft toys Hugo and Smiffy (gorgeous), the story takes the reader on a wonderful and poignant adventure through a world of imagination.

On a personal note, I lost my eldest sister when I was 19. She too was disabled and her death like the death of any sibling left a huge hole in all of our lives. So I could truly relate to The Land of Neverendings and Emily and her experiences of grief and felt they were handled with the right amount of tenderness and humour.  This middle grade story is a celebration of the power of memory to keep those we love alive – and the power of imagination to bring joy.

The Land of Neverendings is published by Faber & Faber.

 

New review: The Chinese Emperor’s New Clothes by Ying Chang Compestine

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The Chinese Emperor’s New Clothes by Ying Chang Compestine, illustrated by David Roberts.

Ming Da is only nine years old when he becomes emperor of China and soon, his three advisers take advantage of the young emperor by stealing his rice, gold and precious stones. But Ming Da has a plan. With the help of his tailors, he comes up with a clever idea to outsmart his devious advisors: He asks his tailors to make “magical” new clothes for him. Anyone how is dishonest, the young emperor explains, will see the clothes’ true splendour, but anyone who is dishonest will only see burlap sacks.  The emperor dons a burlap sack and the ministers can’t help fall for his cunning trick….

This is a fabulous retelling of The Emperor’s New Clothes that was inspired by the award-winning author’s childhood and growing up in the Chinese Cultural Revolution, at a time when Western fairy tales were banned.  As a child the author got her hands on a dog-eared translation of Hans Christian Andersen’s tale and it sparked her own version of the story, now published in this beautifully illustrated picture book.

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The Chinese twist gives a glimpse into the beautiful culture of China and David Robert’s gorgeous artwork brings this all to life. Full of humour and a wonderful example of generosity and courage in Ming Da the young emperor, it is very satisfying to see him win the day!   Readers are invited to make their own Chinese New Year Robe with step by step instructions at the back of the book.  The Chinese Emperor’s New Clothes introduces this classic fairytale and the lessons that can be learned from it to a new generation.

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Find out more at www.yingc.com and www.davidrobertsillustration.tumblr.com/

With thanks to Abrams & Chronicle for sending me this book to review.

 

Blog tour: The Eye of the North – Sinead O’Hart

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Today is my stop on the blog tour for Sinéad O’Hart’s debut book The Eye of the North.  I’m delighted to welcome Sinéad for a bookchat about this fantastic fantasy middle grade novel and the inspiration behind her writing.  You can read my full review of The Eye of the North here.

Sinead O'Hart

Sinéad lives in Ireland with her husband and daughter. She has had many jobs in her life including working as a butcher and a bookseller.  Sinéad has a degree in Medieval Studies, a PhD in Old and Middle English Language and Literature and can read Middle English with perfect fluency!

Welcome to the blog Sinéad and congratulations on the publication of your debut novel. I loved it! Thank you so much! I’m very glad to hear that. 

Tell us about the inspiration behind The Eye of the North. The inspiration behind The Eye of the North goes back a long way. Almost twenty years ago now, I was working in a job I didn’t like very much, and whenever my mind wandered I found myself thinking about a girl – wait for it – working in a job she didn’t like. The differences between that fictional girl (her name was Emma Marvell) and me were many, though; Emma worked in an office which catalogued and stored artefacts and samples from the mythical and legendary creatures of the world, which were sent in by a team of roving explorers. My job wasn’t a fraction so interesting. In Emma’s story, she receives a strange sample one day from an explorer who was last seen in Tromsø, Norway, which gives the impression that he has witnessed the killing of an extremely endangered, and officially mythical, creature – but Emma knows he’s lying. She sets off to get to the truth of what’s going on. I had such great plans for that story, but it never got written. However, the core of it – mythical creatures at the north of the world, valiant scientists struggling to protect them, a girl and a stowaway boy she meets on her journey – have stayed the same. When I came to write The Eye of the North, the story flowed out of my head almost fully formed.

You’ve created an amazing cast of both real and magical creatures. It must be hard not to get carried away when writing about mythical beasts! Do you find it easier to write about human or fantasy characters and how do you go about this? That is such a fascinating question – thank you for asking! It is a bit hard not to pile on the description when you’re talking about a particularly fearsome mythical creature, or to give your not-quite-human baddies all the evil powers you can think of, but I don’t know if I find it harder to write about them than I do about my human characters. I guess fantasy characters have ‘baggage’ – we expect the Yeti, for example, to do Yeti-ish things, if that makes sense, so it already has a character before an author starts writing – or you create them from scratch, so you can decide the parameters of what they can do. Of course, your mythical characters can be written against type, and can do unexpected things, but I think in general I find human characters more complicated, as there can be more layers to them. Certainly, that was true in this book, even though I loved creating some of the fantasy characters, particularly the Northwitch.

Thing is a particularly interesting chap – a bit of a rogue, but a heart of gold. Where did the idea for him come from? I think Thing emerged as a natural foil to Emmeline, and his character was built around that. Emmeline is logical and rational; Thing is impulsive and a bit scatty. Emmeline is guarded and can appear cold at first, because her feelings are so deeply held; Thing wears his heart on his sleeve and with him, what you see is what you get (not including, of course, the secret pain he hides from everyone, including himself). Emmeline is not, shall we say, a people person; Thing thrives on spectacle and makes connections easily, for the most part. I loved their interaction, and how they complemented one another. On the surface they seem very different, but in truth they are quite alike, as both are searching for some version of family, and they are both quite lonely, in their own way.

The plot is full of twists and turns, keeping the reader on the edge of their seat. How did you go about writing the many threads running through it – are you a ‘planner’ or does it evolve naturally? The Eye of the North, perhaps because it had percolated in my head for so many years, largely wrote itself. I didn’t plan it, and I would normally be a planner when it comes to writing – but in this case, the story just flowed. There were scenes, particularly near the end, where I didn’t know how a situation was going to resolve itself until I wrote it, and that surprised me. I knew where I wanted the story to end up, and I knew what fate I wanted for Emmeline and Thing, but as to how they were going to get there… well. I pretty much worked that out as I went, which I know isn’t at all helpful! Of course, the story was edited repeatedly and some plot strands were made stronger or more clear, some were excised completely, and a whole character (a baddie) was removed, so it wasn’t as effortless as I’m making it sound.

The Eye of the North is a fantasy novel. Do you plan to stick with this genre and are you working on anything at present? I love fantasy – mostly because I love mythical creatures, and have always done – so I will certainly try to tell more stories featuring our beloved fantastical beasts in the future. I also love stories in which a ‘normal’ world intersects with or is somehow interrupted by another reality, one in which unexplained things might happen, so that’s something I’d like to explore in future work. I love creating worlds like our own where someone has a power or talent which is outside the normal range of human ability – I have a future work-in-progress like this one on the back burner. As for what I’m working on: I’ve finished a second book, which isn’t a sequel to The Eye of the North, and it involves a girl and her pet tarantula and a boy and his pet mouse who are inexplicably linked across time and space, and who must work together to stop a terrible villain. It’s with my editors at the moment, and while I’m waiting for their feedback I’m making a start into a sequel to The Eye of the North – just in case anybody wants one.

You’ve been writing since you were young. What keeps you motivated to write and do you have any tips for aspiring writers out there? Motivation to write can be hard to come by – particularly since I became a parent! Finding time, finding ‘headspace’, and finding inspiration can all come under pressure when you’re busy, but it always comes back to this, for me: I can’t not write. If I don’t write for a while, I find the itch to start again always kicks in and I can’t help but think about characters and plots while I’m doing the washing-up or hosting conversations between characters in my head while pushing the pram, or whatever it might be. Sometimes I have time to write but I really don’t want to, and in those moments I sometimes push through and write anyway, but more often than not I give myself a break. Your brain needs rest, too. And writing isn’t always about putting words on a page: thinking and daydreaming and plotting and brainstorming and designing your characters are all important and can be part of the process – though it’s important to find the balance, and make sure you’re getting the words down, too, as often as you can.

As for tips for aspiring writers: read, read, read as much as you can, both because you’re hungry for stories and because you want to learn. Every story you consume teaches you something about creating them. When you write, don’t hold back; write whatever’s in your heart and head, and don’t worry about what people might think of it. Express yourself and be proud of the uniqueness of what you’re creating – because even if it feels like you’re not writing anything terribly ‘new’, your voice and your experience will make it new. And then, if you want to write for publication, my advice is to develop patience and resilience, because it takes a long time, and you will have many knock-backs on the way. I have been rejected by almost every major publisher in the UK and the US, and you’ve got to wear that like a badge of honour! Also, learning to take criticism and separating yourself from your work is important, and probably the hardest aspect of the job for me. But if it’s what you want, never give up. Never let anyone make you believe you can’t do it. People like me – very ordinary people – are doing it every day of the week. If we can, so can you.

Thank you so much for some wonderful words of inspiration and the exciting news there could one day be a sequel and good luck with The Eye of the North!

Thank you to Stripes Publishing for sending me a review copy of this book and for the pleasure of hosting this stop on the blog tour.   Check out the rest of the blog tour for more brilliant bookish chat!

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Book of the Month: The Eye of the North by Sinead O’Hart

book of the monthI thoroughly enjoyed this debut novel by Sinéad O’Hart which publishes on the 8th February from Stripes Publishing.  The story weaves elements of fantasy, magic and mythical creatures into an epic voyage.  You can find out more about the author and the inspiration behind The Eye of the North in the blog tour which will be stopping here on Sunday (see below for details)!

The Eye of the North by Sinéad O’Hart

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Emmeline Widget has never left Widget Manor – and that’s the way she likes it. But when her scientist parents mysteriously disappear, she finds herself being packed off on a ship to France, heading for a safe house in Paris. Onboard she is befriended by an urchin stowaway called Thing. But before she can reach her destination she is kidnapped by the sinister Dr Siegfried Bauer. Dr Bauer is bound for the ice fields of Greenland to summon a legendary monster from the deep. And he isn’t the only one determined to unleash the creature. The Northwitch has laid claim to the beast, too. Can Emmeline and Thing stop their fiendish plans and save the world? 

Emmeline Widget has always been convinced her scientist parents were trying to kill her.  But on discovering they’ve disappeared, everything is not as it once seemed.  An epic adventure begins during which Emmeline meets a cast of strange and mysterious characters, some of whom are friends and some very clearly foes.  Members of the Secret Order of the White flower make themselves known but Emmeline and Thing don’t know who they can trust. As she travels deeper into the frozen north, the sinister nature of Dr Bauer’s intentions are revealed, the Northwitch stakes her claim and Emmeline finds herself mortal peril.  But with the help of Thing and some very fantastical creatures, her courage and bravery will surely be rewarded.

The Eye of the North is an exciting fantasy adventure transporting the reader to a magical frozen landscape, full of unexpected delights and terrible threats. The perfect storytelling ingredients create a thrilling plot which has plenty of edge-of-your-seat action scenes. With a feisty heroine in Emmeline, an unusual but likeable sidekick in Thing and a wide cast of mysterious characters, the adventures keep the reader guessing.  The story culminates in a breathtaking final sequence, leaving the door open to a sequel that I would be delighted to read!  A really great middle grade debut novel.

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Find out more at https://sjohart.wordpress.com/ and www.littletiger.co.uk.

With thanks to Stripes Publishing for sending me this book to review.

Don’t miss the blog tour starting on the 5th February!

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