Tag Archives: Middle grade

GUEST POST: The Life and Time of Lonny Quicke by Kirsty Applebaum

The Life and Time of Lonny Quicke by Kirsty Applebaum

What if you could save lives? What if, with just the touch of your hand, you could stop an animal, or even a person, dying? You’d do it, wouldn’t you? But what if it meant you got older each time? Older and older….until you had no time left yourself. Would you do it then?

When this book came through the post, I knew instantly I would love it. Sometimes, a story just captures a little space in your imagination, before you’ve even read it. Lonny Quicke did that for me. Wonderfully written, authentic and engaging characters, and a compelling plot, I read The Life and Time of Lonny Quicke by Kirsty Applebaum, in one sitting.

At the heart of the story is Lonny, an ordinary boy with the extra-ordinary power of a lifeling. A power which enables him to heal or give life to the dying – at a great cost to himself. Such are the risks, Lonny and his family live in the forest, away from the town of Farstoke, to keep him safe – can you imagine what would happen if people knew? But of course, it’s hard to keep things hidden for long, especially when there are family to take care of and mouths to feed – and an extraordinary boy who longs to live an ordinary life. A narrative rich with folklore and stories, life or death choices will take on new meaning when you read this book and you’ll find yourself wondering, what would you do?

I am so pleased to welcome author Kirsty to the blog today, with a wonderful guest post about the songs behind the story (yes, that’s right – songs – you’ll have to read the book now!). Welcome to the blog Kirsty!

Songs in The Life and Time of Lonny Quicke

The Life and Time of Lonny Quicke tells the story of a twelve-year-old boy who is a lifeling, able to restore life to dying creatures with just the touch of his hand. Halfway through the story Lonny finds himself at street festival, surrounded by songs he knows but doesn’t remember learning and ‘stories that are nearly the same as the ones I’ve known forever.’ I incorporated four songs into the book at this point, to help build the festival atmosphere:

A Frog he would a-Wooing Go – A traditional folk song telling the story of a courting frog, understood to be satirising the highly political royal courtships of the 16th century.

My Grandfather’s Clock – Written in 1876 by Henry Clay Work, this song tells the story of an old man and his longcase clock. It’s said to be the source of the term ‘grandfather clock’, and the music sets a steady tick, tock pace throughout.

Oranges and Lemons – Each line of this traditional nursery rhyme represents the distinctive chime of a particular set of London church bells, except for the last few lines which depict a grisly death.

Green Grow the Rushes, Oh! – A folk song of unknown origins which has an intriguing mix of biblical, astronomical and possibly even pagan references.

The thing I find most interesting about these songs is that, as I wrote the book, they just appeared in my head, asking to be included. And when I examined them I realised they were ideal. Mr Frog, for example, disobeys a parent and goes out when he’s been told not to – just like Lonny. My Grandfather’s Clock and Oranges and Lemons have clear themes of time, life and death – all key themes in The Life and Time of Lonny Quicke. And Green Grow the Rushes, Oh! contains the line ‘Two! Two! The lily-white boys, all dressed up in green hi-ho!’ – which could easily be a description of Lonny and his brother at the festival. These songs, then, were lyrically perfect – but they also seemed to embody the essence of the book. With the exception of My Grandfather’s Clock, they all manifest themselves in many different versions, changing through time and place. This is exactly what I wanted to explore in Lonny Quicke about stories – that they change, depending on who is telling them and what message that particular storyteller is trying to get across. On top of that, all four songs have a timeless, folkloric quality. It’s as if they’ve been around forever. Again, this is exactly what I wanted to achieve with my lifeling folklore in The Life and Time of Lonny Quicke.

So the words and tunes that filled my childhood world – all the songs I’d been immersed in as I grew up – have become so much part of me that the right ones just rose out of my subconscious when I needed them. And these four songs of time and life, which I’ve always known but don’t remember learning, are perfect.”

Find out more at www.nosycrow.com. With thanks to Nosy Crow for sending me this book to review and to Kirsty Applebaum for contributing this guest post.

BLOG TOUR: Skyborn by Sinead O’Hart

Today is my stop on the blog tour for a wonderful new middle-grade novel from author Sinead O’Hart, Skyborn published by Little Tiger. A prequel to the much-loved Eye of the North, (read my review of this title here) fans will be delighted to discover Thing’s origin story, in a marvellous and richly drawn adventure set in a Circus. Author Sinead will be sharing insight into the inspiration for Skyborn with a guest post all about her love of the circus!

Skyborn by Sinead O’Hart

The circus has seen better days, but for Bastjan it’s home. He will do anything he can to save it, even if it means participating in a death-defying new act. But when that fails to draw in the crowds, the ringmaster makes a deal with a mysterious man by the name of Dr Bauer. In exchange for his help, Bauer wants a box that belonged to Bastjan’s mother and came from her birthplace – the faraway island of Melita. Bastjan is desperate to keep his only memento of his mother out of Bauer’s hands. And as he uncovers more about the strange objects contained within, he realizes it’s not only the circus that’s in terrible danger…

There is something magical about the circus and Skyborn effortlessly brings this to life, with all it’s wonder and excitement – as well as the darker and more dangerous side. A fantastic cast of characters who you care about, with Bastjan and runaway Alice, who has a significant birth mark on her face, at the heart of the tale. It’s a sprawling adventure which takes you from the sawdust ringside seats up to the trapeze and on to the dizzy heights of air ships and the strange island of Melita. There’s action aplenty, as Bastjan tries to find the truth about his mother, and escape the clutches of his nasty step-father, Ringmaster Quinn. Helped by the eccentric stars of the circus especially his guardian, strong man Crake, Bastjan and Alice face their worst fears as they uncover the mysteries of the box. With multiple themes woven into the narrative, Skyborn is a great book to escape into and I’m sure readers will be lining up to join this circus adventure!

I’m delighted to welcome author Sinead O’Hart to the blog with a guest post sharing the inspiration for Skyborn. Welcome to the blog Sinead!

“I have always loved the circus. When I was a little girl, the circus would come every year to the town I lived in, and my parents always made sure my brother and I had front-row seats (or as close to front-row as could be managed). The ringmaster of the circus was a lady, a beautiful lady, with long dark hair that fell in a cascade all the way down her back, and it was thrilling to watch it flying around her head in a thick braid as she strode around the ring. I admired her red and gold jacket, her riding trousers, her shiny boots, and her gleaming top hat – and that was before a single act had performed! I looked forward to the circus every year, but eventually, as all children do, we grew too old to want to go to the circus with our parents any more, and so they stopped buying our front-row tickets, and we busied ourselves with other things instead.

But the magic of those performances stayed with me. I can still recall so clearly the smell of the big top, the tang of animal dung and straw, the odour of popcorn and toffee, the clamour of the crowd beneath the canvas, the heat (because beneath a big top full of people, it gets hot), and the excitement of waiting for the show to start. I drew on all of this when I wrote my newest book, Skyborn, which is partly set in a circus. The big top, and the performers’ wagons, and their lives as travelling performers, take up about half the book. Much of it is imagined, but I hope I paid a good tribute to the wonder I felt as a little girl whenever that red-and-white striped tent would rise in a field at the edge of my town, and the performers would drive up and down the street in their brightly coloured trucks, beeping their horns and waving, and calling us to ‘come and see the show!’

However, as much as I love circuses, some aspects of them are not as magical now as they once were. One of the themes in Skyborn is captivity, and the injustice of keeping animals in cramped conditions. At the beginning of the book we meet the elephant, Mammoth, who lives in a cage barely big enough to hold him, and Bastjan – our main character – reflects on how cruel this seems. Skyborn is about giving characters back their freedom (or most of them, at least – you’ll have to read the book to find out more); it’s about the wrongness of keeping wild things locked up, whether they’re animals or something else, something like the character of Dawara in my book. Of course, modern circuses don’t use wild animals in their acts any longer, and that is something to be welcomed. There’s still plenty of magic to be found beneath the big top without the need for animal acts – and there’s plenty of magic at the heart of circus stories, too.

So, without further ado, take your front-row seats! The Skyborn Boy is ready to fly, and the performance is about to begin…”

With thanks to Little Tiger for inviting me to participate in this blog tour. Check out the rest of the blog tour:

BLOG TOUR: City of Rust by Gemma Fowler

It’s time to enter the City of Rust! I’m sharing my review of this exciting adventure on the final stop of the blog tour today. Published by Chicken House, City of Rust is the debut middle-grade novel by Gemma Fowler and introduces a sci-fi world of robots, space junk and a daring heroine with her side-kick gecko.

Railey dreams of winning the biggest drone race on Earth with her bio-robotic gecko, Atti. But when her chance is crushed, she flees skywards, hiding out among the Junkers who mine the rubbish orbiting the planet. Here though, Railey discovers something far worse – a huge trash bomb will destroy the world…unless she and Atti do something about it. This is the race of a lifetime….

City of Rust builds a world and characters you believe in right from the opening scenes; there is so much to enjoy in this story. Set in a dystopian future where the world has been turned into a giant junkyard caused by decades of trash, and different ‘spheres’ make up the rust-filled planet. Most people live in Boxville, a city made of giant containers. Scraping a living amongst them, is brave Railey, her aging and delightful half-Junker Gran and staunch friend Atti, and we soon discover there is more going on than day to day junking. After the failure of the drone race, Gran reveals a glimpse of her past and with a bounty hunter robot chasing them, the adventure really begins. Told with a fast-paced plot and engaging narrative, we follow Railey and Atti as they manage to escape, seeking shelter with the Junkers – the clans who mine the rubbish orbiting the Earth known as the Soup. Sinister villains lurk, somehow connected to her Gran’s past life and Railey must use all her engineering ingenuity, with the help of Atti and new Junker friends, to save the world from a dastardly plot.

Full of action, imagination and a whole world of sci-fi wonder to discover, City of Rust is definitely one to add to your bookshelf!

With thanks to Chicken House for sending me this book to review and inviting me to participate in the blog tour which you can follow here:

New review: After the War by Tom Palmer

As we approach Remembrance Sunday, I wanted to share my review of After the War by Tom Palmer. One thing I now ready myself for when I read a book by Tom Palmer is the huge emotion his storytelling evokes. After the War is a brilliantly written story, published by Barrington Stoke and set in Summer 1945, inspired by the true story of the Windermere boys.

Summer 1945. The Second World War is finally over and Yossi, Leo and Mordecai are among three hundred children who arrive in the English Lake District. Having survived the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps, they’ve finally reached a place of safety and peace, where they can hopefully begin to recover. But Yossi is haunted by thoughts of his missing father and disturbed by terrible nightmares. As he waits desperately for news from home, he fears that Mordecai and Leo – the closest thing to family he has left – will move on without him. Will life by the beautiful Lake Windermere be enough to bring hope back into all their lives?

After the War is moving from the very first page – even the Foreword is an absolute eyeopener, written by Trevor Avery of the Lake District Holocaust Project. I had never heard of the Windermere Boys nor the Project, which seeks to share the stories of the children who were brought to the Lake District following their release from captivity in concentration camps during the Second World War. It is instantly clear After the War is well-researched and depicts the real-life events with great sensitivity. The three central characters are all inspired by the true stories of survivors.

Yossi, Leo and Mordecai all experienced horrors we can only imagine. This is contrasted with the immense kindness and generosity of the people of the Lake District who look after them when they arrive in Cumbria. The boys have to learn to trust again, having been so appallingly treated by the Nazis. They also have to start to look to the future, each with their own ideas of what they want to do. Yossi is desperate for news of his missing father who he last saw in the Camp – and when the Red Cross arrive to offer help in reuniting families, Yossi leaps at the chance to see if his father can be found. He cannot think about anything until he knows where his father is. Mordecai finds solace in his Jewish faith, contemplating living in a Jewish community in Leeds and Leo thinks the best place for them is Palestine, where Jews won’t be persecuted.

The narrative intertwines the boys’ experiences with the those of the local people, including a family whose son has not yet returned from fighting. Even though they are suffering, they still help support the Windermere Boys. There are also glimpses of the treatment of the boys by the Nazis at the outbreak of war and during their time in the Camps. Whilst not gratuitous in any way, the stark reality of the holocaust and the conflict as a whole is clear. I never cease to be stunned and appalled by man’s inhumanity to man – and especially to children. In one scene as the boys get used to their new surroundings, Yossi refuses to get up, asking why should he bother after so much has happened to him and his loved ones. It’s only when he recalls his father’s words “…if we let ourselves go, the Germans will think they were right: that we are not human.”, that he realises that getting up every day was an act of defiance in the face of their persecutors – and still is.

As Yossi, Mordecai and Leo recover, they slowly being to trust again and see hope for the future, helped by the hard work of those looking after them. The beautiful setting of the Lake District provides a stunning backdrop to the harsh reality they have left behind – and must have been part of the healing process for all those who survived. Beautifully told, After the War is an opportunity to celebrate the bravery and courage and determination of those who survived persecution by the Nazis. It’s also an opportunity to celebrate the kindness of the people of Windermere as they helped hundreds of children recover from the horrors of the holocaust.

But most importantly, this story is an act of Remembrance – both in its creation and for everyone that reads it. We cannot ever forget the service and sacrifice of wartime heroes and ordinary people, who secured our freedom and restored hope to so many.

Find out more www.tompalmer.co.uk and www.barringtonstoke.co.uk. With thanks to Barrington Stoke for sending me this book to review.

New review: The Tigers in the Tower by Julia Golding

Julia Golding has written a whole host of books for children and young adults. The Cat Royal series and Companions Quartet in particular were scarcely ever on the shelves in the school library, such was their popularity! When I heard about her latest middle-grade novel, The Tigers in the Towers published by Lion Hudson, I was intrigued to read it.

Sahira’s family are travelling to England to deliver two majestic Indian tigers to the menagerie in the Tower of London when tragedy strikes and sickness steals Sahira’s parents from her on the journey. Heartbroken and alone in a miserable and dangerous orphanage in London, Sahira is determined to protect her tigers. But to do so she must set out on an adventure and use all her powers of persuasion to engage the help of some new friends along the way. Can the quest to find her tigers a safe home, lead Sahira to find her own place of hope and belonging in this strange and foreign land?

Julia writes fantastic historical fiction and this is no exception. From the first page, you are drawn into nineteenth century London, with all its sights, sounds and smells! Sahira is a courageous soul, whose determination to protect her tigers is admirable. She faces barriers on all sides – from the cruel Mr Pence who runs the orphanage to the sons of the local crime family, bullies Tommy and Alf Newton, as well as being in a foreign country and carrying the grief of losing her parents. With every page we discover more about Sahira’s childhood in India, her English father’s heritage and the family who seem to have disowned her. Historical references and cameo appearances, including Charles Darwin and Robert Peel, add to the colourful cast of characters and bring to life a fascinating period of history. Weaved into the story are themes of grief, prejudice, equality, animal conservation and friendship and there is much we can learn from Sahira’s experiences. Tiger in the Towers reads like a classic and is definitely one to add to your bookshelf.

Find out more at www.goldinggateway.com. With thanks to Lion Hudson for sending me this book to read and review.