Monthly Archives: Nov 2017

Review: The Ice Garden by Guy Jones

Review: The Ice Garden by Guy Jones

To be published by Chicken House January 2018.                   ISBN 978191140043 (pbk)

A deceptively slight novel with a sizeable heart.

Jess is allergic to the sun. Her physical movements are limited (even a moment in indirect sun gives her a terrible blister), but her imagination is boundless. She writes stories, is home schooled, attends far too many hospital appointments and -unintentionally- worries her mum. Jess is a ‘normal’ twelve year old despite her abnormal allergy.

After one boring appointment, Jess inadvertantly ‘meets’ a boy in a coma. Knowing how stifling it can be to be stuck indoors, she writes stories to read aloud to him.

The one moment of physical freedom Jess has is occasional moon-lit walks. One night she visits the local playground. But at night time, there is another garden beyond the boundary hedges: an ice garden.

This is Jess’ own secret garden: the antithesis of the sun-filled, over-heated, busy daytime world she has to hide from.

But Jess is not alone in the ice garden. It is home to a mysterious ice boy. They explore the unusual ice garden, its other inhabitants and unique flora and fauna, all of which further fuels Jess’ imaginative stories for the boy in the coma.

What is the power of the ice garden? Where did the ice boy come from? Who is the boy in the coma?  What does sunlight on skin feel like?

Despite being a short book, this is a story with a large emotional heart. It is a lovely mixture of real life and fantasy, imagination and ice. Echoes of The Secret Garden, What Katy Did and the long winter of Narnia are all there, but reimagined in a contemporary setting.

It is an engaging read for ages nine upwards. A good, economical  debut novel. I shall be recommending it to customers once it’s published.

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Posted by on 27/11/2017 in review


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Review: A Book of Book Lists

I am a bibliophile, a book addict, a book hoarder. And because of this I love books about books. It seems that I am not alone!

This quirky little book published by the British Library is, as the title suggests, a book packed with lists of books.


Alex Johnson has managed to select a fascinating, entertaining and enlightening series of lists of books from all manner of people, situations and contexts. It is not a series of lists of books you should read (although your TBR pile will exponentially increase as you dip into this) but it is a testament to Western civilisation’s love affair with the printed word. These lists reflect what has been loved between the covers, shows a little of why we love them, and reassures us that we will continue to love well into the future.

A range of the lists includes – picked almost at random – books on the Big Bang Theory bookcase, books used as decoration in IKEA stores, the most unread books, Marilyn Monroe’s personal library (or at least the plays in it which were auctioned in 1999), books on the International Space Station (apparently astronauts can take up to ten books; there are also lots of children’s books there, available to read for video broadcasts) and the books of Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs.

It also gets a bit meta-textual with the last entry being ‘Bibliomemoir: A List of Book-List Books’.

The lists feature some context and comment -it’s not just a list of lists – but it’s definitely a book to dip into. Keep it on the bedside table or in the smallest room in the house.

Now that ‘s an idea for a list: Books in the Throne Room…!


With thanks to The British Library for the proof; I loved it!

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Posted by on 23/11/2017 in review


Review: Kick by Mitch Johnson

Kick (Paperback)

I’ve read many children’s fiction titles recently, but this one really stood out. Partly because of its setting (Indonesia) and partly because it’s aimed at football-obsessed children (that is, the elusive to booksellers, boy reader).

This is the perfect book to recommend to a ‘typical boy’ who is looking for something more complex than Walliams, Baddiel, Kinney, et al. It will shake the reader out of their Western complacency, obsession with the Champions League, celebrity players and putting the latest, most expensive football boots on the Christmas list.

Because this is the story of a boy who, like them, is obsessed by football, but – probably unlike the anticipated reader – knows the true price of these football boots.

Because he made them.

Budi works in what we would call a ‘sweat shop’. He spends a punishing day sewing together the boots which are sold internationally. His particular area is ‘the uppers’ in which he takes pride. No-one in the factory is beyond being put on ‘boxes’; putting together the shoe boxes for hours on end. Budi is paid a pittance for a very long day’s work. Even his wage – and that of his father – is not enough to put much more than rice into their bowls at dinner time.

Life is unfair, power is unbalanced, decisions are tough.

But Budi has a loving family (mum, dad, grandma), his own room, friends, and the hope that one day he can play football like his hero, Keiran Wakefield.

This is a story of football (plenty), family (loving) and food (some) alongside gangs, violence and brutal working conditions.

But ultimately, it is about hope and aspiration. Simple aspirations, realised through love, hope and the following of a dream.

This is a moving story, well told. Budi’s voice is authentic, engaging and affecting. I came to love his family and was privileged to share in his story for a short while. As a parent in a (comparatively) affluent city, I was very aware of the harsh reality of Budi’s life and how different it is from that of my own children’s life.

It’s a fast-paced read with football games, chases and grandma’s meandering stories weaved through. An excellent debut.

ISBN 9781474928151

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Posted by on 20/11/2017 in review


On Reading a Longlist


imageSo, what does a bookseller do on her days off?

Well, this one (appropriately enough) has been reading.

But reading with a purpose. I have just finished reading 51 books in 44 days. The purpose? Suggesting the shortlist from the longlist for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2018.(I am only one of many booksellers who volunteered for this, but it’s the first time I’ve read a whole long list and had any form of input into the shortlist)

I have to confess, it was a bit of a challenge, particularly as I have sprogs of my own (v time-consuming!), and possibly the most important book this year was published as half term approached (some book about Dust, let the reader understand).

What was particularly interesting about reading such a number of (children’s) books in a specified period of time was the discipline and the variety. Not since school have I had my reading prescribed. Of course, I judged the books immediately, whether by their covers, what I already knew about them, which category they were in, and so on. However, I had to put that aside as I began to read, judging the books by their individual merit in the three categories.

Each book was a debut. That in itself was fascinating. Almost every novel was so assured, confident in its own voice and purpose, an immense achievement for each author and publishing team behind them.

A few stood out from the moment I opened the (enormous) box. Others looked unassuming but their stories drew me in. A couple of the initial stand outs were truly wonderful.

One of the joys of working as a bookseller is that I am able to enthusiastically thrust these books into customer’s hands, as well as those of my children, friends, family and colleagues. I can have a very small part to play in sharing imaginative and important stories, and perhaps even helping along a book’s success.

For this book prize there are three categories: illustrated books, 5-12 years, 12 plus years.

The 5-12 category has an enormous range within it; it is the category is most interested in ( having children -just about – within that range helps) and the stories were all excellent! A range of real-life scenarios, some very difficult, challenging issues dealt with, lots of jokes and funny scenarios, gigantic leaps of the imagination, a big dollop of magic and fantasy. There was death, separation, illnesses, mental distress, physical pain, broken families, but all contained within ultimately safe boundaries.

Similarly, the illustrated books had stories of anger, greed, loneliness, fear, family, ignorance, conservation, in addition to some excellent factual books.

The 12 plus, YA, category was where the boundaries were not so secure, the issues were let loose a little more, to roam more freely in the wilds of a more dangerous world. The language was certainly, understandably and appropriately, stronger. Situations were not always resolved, the ‘magic’ did not always work, endings were more hopeful than happy.

What united almost all the books was the search for identity, one’s place in the world. Whether on a small or large scale, how do we find our unique place in our surroundings? What role do our parents, backgrounds, circumstances, material advantages or disadvantages, society, intelligence, encouragement or setbacks play in the eventual outcome?

I loved the challenge to read so many books in such a short space of time. I have now have read and enjoyed books books I may have otherwise passed by. At times, I found myself feeling restricted (so many lovely books piling up on my TBR pile!); it felt as though I had my English coursework hanging over me. But the process was not too taxing (only short feedback required) and I am now much better read in this year’s children’s books. Which is useful in my line of work…!

I have an absolute stand out favourite. Of course I can’t reveal which book it is but if you meet me at work, I will probably press it into your hands with great passion, urging you to read it, regardless of your age or gender. More on that later (perhaps).

But now I’m wondering which ‘adult’ novel I can read as a palate cleanser. Any suggestions?

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Posted by on 02/11/2017 in review