Category Archives: review

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


Meet Morrigan Crow, a ‘wundrous’ girl

Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend (ISBN 9781510104112 hardback)


This is simply the most fun, exciting and magical read since we first met a boy called Potter.
It is a story which is both dark and hopeful, magical and relatable. It’s one of my favourite books of the whole year.
It’s a story of rejection and acceptance, of loss and belonging, of losing and finding, of wunder and wonders.
Like the abandoned boy who slept under the stairs, this new heroine is a ‘cursed child’ who lives under a shadow of blame, rejection and limitation. Morrigan Crow is doomed to die at midnight on her eleventh birthday (a downer for anyone). But during her final dinner with her lukewarm family, the exciting, ebullient and rather mysterious figure of Captain Jupiter North bursts into her life.
Then bursts her out into the ‘wundrous’ world of Nevermoor. Here she begins to find her place in Jupiter’s hotel, the Deucalion (think Hogwarts but with better facilities), while entering the titular trials to see whether she is worthy to enter the Wundrous Society, a prestigious order of society’s finest.

This is a story of dragon-riders and self-growing chandeliers; of giant arachnids and blood-thirsty hounds; a giant ‘Magnifi-cat’ and a truly menacing villain.
Jessica Townsend has created a glorious new world; scenes are filmic in their scope and description, there is so much potential for development of the world and people of Nevermoor.

So, grab your umbrella, step boldly, and join ‘the mad ginger and the strange little girl with black eyes’ as they venture into Nevermoor.
It’s truly ‘wundrous’!


(thanks to Hatchette for the proof. Review also on I will enthusiastically thrust it into your hands at Waterstones, Finchley Road O2, NW3)

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Posted by on 18/10/2017 in review


Review: How To Stop Time

A: Read Matt Haig’s latest novel! Its beauty, depth and humanity will make you forget the end of your lunch break, miss your Tube stop, take you beyond sleep. It’s as though the reading of this time-bending novel can stop time itself with the power of Tom Hazard’s story. 

It kept me cool during the recent heatwave.

Tom may look like an ordinary forty-odd year old but he has actually loved centuries. Through the terror of witch-hunts, to the stench of London with Shakespeare; the ephemeral jazz age with Fitzgerald to the excitement on the South Seas with Captain Cook, Tom lives through it all, until we meet him attempting to teach history to reluctant pupils in Hackney. 

Forever, Emily Dickinson said, is composed of nows. But how do you inhabit the now you are in ? How do you stop the ghosts of all the other ones from getting in? How, in short, do you live?

Tom has a rare condition which delays his aging; he is ‘an albatross’. Although not immortal, his aging process is so slow, he has to watch everyone he loves age around him. The skill of this novel is how Haig gets us to feel the emotional connection with Tom; his hope as he searches for his lost loves, how he tries to lose himself in the pleasures of the age, how he always feels disconnected from his surroundings.

…love food and music and champagne and rare sunny afternoons in October. You can love the sight of waterfalls and the smell of old books, but the love of people is off limits…’

Ultimately, this is a novel of hope, of joy in the present, of the power of love to sustain and give meaning to life. It is an easier read than these weighty themes might suggest; a unique love story with historical colour and humour .

That’s the thing with time, isn’t it? It’s not all the same. Some days -some years – some decades – are empty. There is nothing to them. It’s just flat water. And then you come across a year, or even a day, or an afternoon. And it is everything. It’s the whole thing.

As in his other novels, Matt Haig has successfully explored a complex idea with a light touch, injected both humour and pathos, to produce a joyful, moving and entertaining novel.     A delight to read! I shall be recommending it enthusiastically.
Thanks to Canongate for the prepublication proof.

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Posted by on 24/06/2017 in Life, review


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Reading Week Day Seven

Ok, it was ambitious to expect to blog every day of my self-imposed ‘reading week’. As is so often at the moment, life with kids gets in the way with governors’ meetings, hospital appointments, and so on in addition to the school runs and general need for the company of their mummy. 

However, I finished reading The Power today. I was expecting it to be as amazing as a Bailey’s prize winning novel could be; it certainly did not disappoint.

With its multiple narrators, movement through the ten years before ‘The Cataclysm’, line drawings of historical artifacts, and amusingly intriguing prologue and epilogue, this is a magnificent book.

With an even tone and quickening pace, and well-realised, wonderfully complex ideas, this novel shows just how accomplished a writer Alderman is.

What would happen if, overnight, women discovered that they had electrical power at their fingertips? Starting with a small number of teens scattered throughout the world, the balance of power is irrevocably altered and civilisation struggles to deal with this. Like the girls’ electrical pulses, the story builds, arcs and explodes spectacularly. 

Alderman details the origins of this power, its effect on certain women, and the world-wide repercussions. It’s scarily believable. 

Despite the serious sounding review so far, this is an immensely readable, fast paced, rollercoaster of a read. It’s excellent. I am not surprised there is talk of a screen adaptation; it’ll be great!

If you’re looking for a thrilling read, more than a flimsy summer fling, a novel with guts and great writing, try The Power

It’ll ‘jolt’ you out of the everyday. It’s a blast!

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Posted by on 15/06/2017 in review


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