Author Archives: BookWormMum

About BookWormMum

Mum (twice), wife (once), graduate (twice), bibliophile (always). I am a part-time Bookseller in my recently adopted home of London. Book tart, film snob; I'll try almost anything between the (book) covers. Will publish honest reviews and book-ish thoughts with no regularity.

Review: The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar


What a tale! Most definitely a grown up story and all the better for it.

While reading it, I was reminded of Georgette Heyer’s Regency London, but one which shows more of the shaved, itching head under the powdered wig.

Set in London and its environs from 1785, it’s a tale of mermaids and courtesans, fortune and poverty, love and lust.

Jonah Hancock is a shipping merchant; staid, widowed, slightly shabby but just about managing; a middling, average, unremarkable man.  He’s plodding his way through life following the death of his wife and infant son, living in the same house he was born in with his young niece, Sukie.  Everything is transformed when his ship’s captain brings back a mermaid. Wizened and hideous, it’s not the beauty everyone expects,  but it’s still a mysterious bewitching creature. Oh, and it’s dead.

As well as a mermaid, Jonah meets Angelica Neal – one of the most notorious courtesans of the Ton. She posed for Reynolds, entertained the most eligible men, and knew exactly how to please her admirers. But she has been abandoned by her latest lover, left only with her companion, Eliza Frost.

Their paths cross and become entwined to the surprise of Angelica’s erstwhile madam, the ironically named Mrs Chappell. (As an aside, I noticed that all the women in Mrs Chappell’s ‘nunnery’ are referred to as ‘Mrs’; perhaps an honorary title, similar to that of a housekeeper in later decades, but with added services – less housework more ‘whore-work’?! Just a thought…)

Another mermaid is found, and the story becomes a little fantastical. I didn’t mind this element of mystical whimsy as I’d become as invested in the story of Jonah and Angelica as they had with each other; as entangled as a woman’s ribbons might become in her stays if removed too hastily in the heat of passion.

This is an immersive read. At times, it reminded me of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall in the amount of detail provided for the minutiae of daily life in a long-ago age. The reader can see, taste, hear, smell and feel all the fabrics, interiors, cobbled streets, docklands, whore houses, coffee houses of the London of 1780s. The authors experience working in museums evidently put to good use as she vividly evokes daily life via the things needed to live in a Regency city.

It should be pointed out that there is an eye-raising scene in ‘the nunnery’ as a lavish, sensual show is performed by ‘sailors and mermaids’ for the obvious delight and titillation of society’s gentlemen. It’s not for the faint-hearted but it’s pivotal to the plot and perfectly encapsulates the excess and licentiousness of the age in that part of society.

It struck me while I was reading, that all the characters are questing to improve their lot in life, perhaps by fortune, discovery, a suitable match, or gainful employment.  Everyone wants to be elsewhere.  The presence of the second mermaid – a much more ethereal creature – unsettles the balance. Rather than looking upwards and outwards, those who encounter her start to look inwards and downwards, sinking into miasma. Perhaps the mermaid’s former freedom in the ocean and fluidity of her movements reminds us of our restrictive, gravitised lives in human society.

It also explores women in captivity, in its loosest sense. This novel is full of women but they’re all constrained: in their position in society, in their clothes, in what they can say. The uncaught mermaid is free; perhaps that’s an element of her attraction.

I loved the frequent and delightful use of contemporary expressions and terminology. I neglected to make a note as I went along, but those that stick in my memory are the insistence by one of the madams on the use of ‘cundums’ and a most memorable scene involving the use and emptying of a ‘bordalone’ (to all intents and purposes a Regency ‘she-wee’!).

This is truly sumptuous writing; a sensual delight created by mere words on a page. It’s a truly immersive read and comes highly recommended. Dive in!


ISBN 9781911215721 (hardback, February 2018)

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Posted by on 01/03/2018 in review


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Review: The Peculiars by Kieran Larwood

Fancy reading a story about a Victorian freakshow?

Want a tale of hair-raising adventure, a smattering of steam-punk inventions, a break-in to The Crystal Palace, a quick look at the Great Exhibition of 1851 (in the dark), get your hands on Faraday’s machine and even see the Ko-i-Nor diamond?

Well, you’ll find all that in Kieran Larwood’s debut novel (now republished), with added friendship, escapades and dung pellets.

This is the story of Sheba, a ‘wolf-girl’ who is part of Grunchgirdle’s very small, shabby travelling freakshow.

‘Everyone said she had a lovely head of hair.

And face of hair. And hands of hair.

In fact, she was covered from head to foot.’

Sheba is ‘exceptional’, with excellent olfactory skills, a talent for lock picking, and is literate. But the only qualities people see are her wolf-like appearances.

She is sold by Grunchgirdle to the equally descriptively named Plumpscuttle for his (slightly) larger freakshow. Sheba joins his caravan to London – the sprawling, stinking Metropolis – where they sit each night to be gawped at by paying customers.

Sheba joins the ‘cast’ including Monkeyboy, Gigantus, the ninja warrior Sister Moon and Mama Rat. She is accepted into ‘The Peculiars’ with affection and appreciation,

9781911490210finding a sort of family for the first time in her life. The team might appear terrifying or unusual on the surface, but prove to be big-hearted, sensitive and brave friends.

When ‘Mudlarks’ begin to disappear, The Peculiars investigate. They are pursued by an evil woman and her devious accomplices, leading to the thrilling adventures mentioned above.

You can even read a little of the work of Famous Lady Novelist, Gertrude Lacygusset!

There is genuine peril within. I found myself worrying about the characters, racing through the final chapters as the team solved the mystery and foiled the ‘baddies’.

Another excellent book from Chicken House publishers. Although not actually a new book – it’s a reissue from 2012, originally titled The Freaks – it’s a great read. And the new cover by Karl James Mountford is gorgeous!

Recommended for confident readers from eight upwards. Thrilling!

ISBN 9781911490210

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Posted by on 18/02/2018 in review


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Review: Tin by Padraig Kenny

Tin cover

You must read this wonderful début! It’s full of ingenious inventions, great bravery and enormous heart.

Meet Christopher. He is a ‘proper’, a human orphan, growing up in Mr Absalom’s junk yard amongst a motley crew of robot mechanicals. There’s Jack who could be sold as a ‘real boy’, Round Rob made from a cooking pot, Manda who’s just a little bit wonky everywhere, Gripper the giant who’s as kind as he is strong, and Estelle, the other ‘proper’ who helps out ‘like a real grown up’.

Together they embark on a thrilling journey of discovery, adventuring to Ironhaven and the Crag, finding their inner strength and undiscovered skills.

This is a world like ours (in the 1930s) but filled with glyphs and mechanicals, Blakes and Runcibles.

A winning combination of Pinocchio with The Wizard of Oz and a bit of I, Robot.

I thought it was a delightful story of friendship, love, and what it means to be human.

What would your robot look like? Would you like to be a robot?

ISBN 9781911077657 pbk

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Posted by on 30/01/2018 in review


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Review: Brightstorm by Vashti Hardy


What a ride!

This is a great story for ‘middle grade’ readers full of amazing inventions, an exciting adventure, a pair of brave and clever twins, helpful animals and a heartless enemy. With added air ships.

Meet Arthur and Maudie, the Brightstorm twins. They’re inquisitive, adventurous, bright, and brave. They’re also about to be orphaned. Their father is an intrepid explorer who doesn’t return from his last expedition to try to rWhat each South Polaris, the furthest point known to humanity.  Maudie is an engineer in the making, reading and investigating mechanical workings as much as possible. Arthur is more thoughtful but always joins his twin on her adventures. She made his iron arm so he can clamber the rooftops alongside her.

The twins seek their escape from the ‘care’ of the Begginses by joining an expedition North. But will they choose the beautifully dressed, famous Eudora Vane or the young, reckless Harriet Culpepper?

On their adventures, they come across transforming houses, thought-wolves and learn the importance of a well-appointed spoon.

This story is full of imaginative inventions, bravery and friendship. There are moments of real peril, sadness and delight. The society of Lontown is well realised, and the wild landscapes of the Second and Third continents are exciting and untamed.

Now I’m off to dream of swamp cakes and honey tea while steering my own sky ship across the continents…

‘Love is what you decide to do – the choices you make.’


Thanks to Scholastic and Bounce Marketing for the gorgeously presented advance proof copy. The published book looks even shinier!

Published March 2018

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Posted by on 26/01/2018 in review


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Review: The Girl With the Lost Smile by Miranda Hart

img_20180124_154918_hdr.jpgNow, I’m not usually a fan of ‘celebrity children’s books’; sometimes very little writing has been done by the ‘celebrity’ themselves, but also some of the stories can be so poor they would be unlikely to be accepted for publication without the famous name attached to it.

This is definitely not the case with Miranda Hart’s children’s novel. It is good, funny, age-appropriate, shows great imaginative flair, has moments of real peril and emotion.



I should also point out that I am a fan of Miranda Hart’s comedy; I like her silly, observational humour. I know that she’s quite a ‘Marmite comedian’ but I like both Marmite and Miranda!

I received a review copy from the lovely people at Hatchette Kids but at a similar time my daughter received one as a birthday present. Who was going to read it first? (She did, within a week) Perhaps I was a little sceptical (see above) and slow to start reading, but my daughter had been given her copy with an enthusiastic recommendation from her friend: ‘ This is my FAVOURITE book!’ And she doesn’t mind lugging a hardback around in her bag all day.


In essence, the title tells the story: on her eleventh birthday, Chloe loses her smile. Why? And will she find it again? Well, yes – it’s got to have a happy ending, hasn’t it? – but the journey to finding the smile is itself full of smiles (from the reader at least), sand animals and shadow bandits.

There are also reflections on the joy of categorising one’s joke collection, the best (only?) game of snakes and ladders in literature and the quest for the comfort of a new duvet. Chloe’s parents and her Gran have their own dramas to play out; as an adult reader, the implications of this are clear to see.

What raises this story above other imaginative adventures is the underlying metaphor; I understood Chloe’s lost smile as symptomatic of the state of depression. The feeling that you might never smile again, that nothing can lift your spirits, that it’s your own fault and that it’s making everyone you love just as sad as you are. And that’s a brave subject to tackle in a children’s book. I thought it was done very well, with a balance of taking the emotions seriously, but treating it in a very imaginative, fun way by taking Chloe to her own Magic Land to discover her ‘courage, hope and love’ and – spoiler alert! – find her smile.

The illustrations by Kate Hindley are great; encapsulating the silliness in this search.

My daughter and I had ‘Such Fun’ reading Chloe’s story. We wonder what’s next for the glorious Miss Hart…?


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Posted by on 25/01/2018 in review


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Review: Kin by Snorri Kristjansson

I don’t think I know enough about the Vikings.


Daughter’s Viking helmet from last term’s topic; she knows more than me about Viking life!

I do know they didn’t wear horned helmets. Or rape and pillage everyone mercilessly. I HAVE watched and read my Horrible Histories’ Vicious Vikings, I promise. But I don’t know much about how they ‘lived, moved and had their being’.

Now I do.

Kin is the first in a projected series about a young Viking girl, Helga Finnsdottir. Set in the summer of 970, Helga’s adoptive parents, Unnthor and Hildigunnur, host a family reunion for their four adult children. And like any family get-together, there are tensions, quarrels and resentment. Oh, and murder. With plenty of honey mead to ease the pain.

Helga is a good pair of eyes to see this family through; she knows the parents very well but does not yet have the measure of their children.  She becomes, in effect, the sleuth, solving the question of ‘whodunnit’.

There was an impressive detail of daily settled Viking life; I found it fascinating.  This is billed as ‘Viking Noir’; perhaps anything in an unforgiving setting is ‘noir’, despite this being in a Nordic summer. There is blood but it is not too gruesome. The murder mystery element was satisfyingly solved and resolved, although I worked out the twist long before the end.

I read this as a proof but I am assured by the lovely folks at Quercus that a family tree will be included on publication. That should help you to avoid the confusion I felt over the combination of husbands and wives, siblings and relatives.

This could be the start of an interesting crime series. Mere, dak!


Published March 2018   ISBN 9781786489012

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Posted by on 25/01/2018 in review


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Review: Teacup House: Meet the Twitches by Hayley Scott and Pippa Curnick


Here’s a lovely book for an ’emerging reader’ who likes a good balance of words and pictures on their page. And a sprinkling of (possible) magic…

Meet the Twitches is the debut in a proposed series with words by Hayley Scott, and pictures by Pippa Curnick. As expected with the wonderful Usborne books, this is a perfect paring with a lovely balance of plot, contemporary interest, humour and ‘sweetness’ for a story in this age range.

Stevie (and her Mum) moves from her tower block flat to a cottage. On their departure, Nanny Blue gives her a teacup house, four rabbits and their own box of furniture, food and books. This is the Twitch family of four beautifully dressed grey rabbits: Gabriel, Bo, Silver and Fig.

However, an element of mild peril has to be added, and in this first adventure, Gabriel (Daddy) Twitch falls out of the box, getting lost in the vast wilderness of the new cottage’s garden.

Will he return to his family? Who is the most inventive Twitch? Do rabbits really like carrots?

And what does Stevie think of her new home? Will it ever feel like home?

And why does Mum already know about the Twitches…?

There is a hint of magic (‘There was a funny feeling in the air…’) and the action is divided between the Twitch family and Stevie and her mum, rooting the magical, inventive story in a ‘real-world’ situation. I love the way that even the tiniest event can be an enormous adventure. I am looking forward to seeing how Stevie’s garden grows, and some of the stories in the Twitches’ impressive book collection.
I will be whole-heartedly recommending this little series as it develops to young readers – and their grown ups.

ISBN 9781474928120 pbk February 2018

With thanks to Stevie Hopwood at Usborne for the proof; you were right – I loved it!


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Posted by on 15/01/2018 in review


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