Book Review: Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce

img_20180112_225324_hdr.jpgDo you worry about What To Read Next?

Do you struggle to find Suitable Reading Material?

Are you looking for a story which is Engaging, Heart-felt and Exciting?

Do you like to read about Real Events?

Then Dear Mrs Bird is the book for you!

Follow the adventures of Emmeline Lake and her best friend Marigold.

Thrill as Emmy and Bunty become Women of the World in the topsy-turvy Time of War.

Smile as Emmy’s dream position of being a Brave Lady War Correspondent is in actuality a post as Junior Typist on the Problem Pages of Women’s Friend.

Brace yourself to meet the Indomitable Mrs Henrietta Bird.

Worry as Emmy begins to answer some of the Problem Letters herself, particularly those which deal with Unmentionables.

Swoon as Emmy meets a handsome army Captain.

Gasp as Bombs Fall on London. Will Emmy and Bunty Stay Safe?

But above all, Welcome Emmy, Bunty and Mrs Bird into your Spring-time reading. You Will Not Regret It!


Published March 2018    ISBN 9781509853892 (HB)

With thanks to Macmillian for the gorgeously presented proof.

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Posted by on 15/01/2018 in review


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Review: Sky Chasers by Emma Carroll


One of the perks of being a bookseller is ‘book post’. Sometimes you can ask a publisher for a particular book; occasionally, one lands in the staff room unexpectedly. Rarely do they arrive be-ribboned and including hot chocolate!

So, yes, I was expecting Emma Carroll’s new novel, Sky Chasers, to be something special. And, no, I wasn’t disappointed.

Having read a few of Emma’s previous novels, I knew I would be in for a good, steady story with an emotional heart. (And the delicious hot chocolate made me feel even warmer inside!)

Working on a prize-winning idea by Neal Jackson and drawing on historical events, Emma Carroll has created a fun adventure about flight, family, friends and the French (sorry, couldn’t resist the alliteration!).

Magpie is a petty thief. As an orphan on the streets of Annonay, southern France, in 1783, she has no choice. With the assistance of her pet rooster, Coco, she is ‘commissioned’ to steal a particular document box from the house of the Montgolfier family by a commanding lady of the name Delacroix. (Coco is less of a hindrance than you might think; he doesn’t crow. Yet.)

Needless to say, it doesn’t work out according to plan. Magpie ends up more involved with the lives of the Montgolfier household than just one night’s thievery, befriending their son, Pierre, his pet goose, Voltaire, and Lancelot, the most endearing sheep in literature I have yet to meet.

Pierre’s father is working on a flying machine  – la balloon – and Magpie and Pierre become – literally – entwined in his prototypes, eventually leading them to a very public display in front of the King himself.

This is an exciting adventure story. It romps along at a heady pace, blown by the wind of the story. I loved Magpie’s character: feisty, strong, as good as any boy – and often better. She is not ashamed of being a different colour to those around her; just as her poverty doesn’t diminish her spirit, neither does her ethnicity. Pierre is a sweet boy and his friendship with Magpie develops well. But it is the animal characters who are most memorable. The (almost) silent Coco who is petted like a cat by Magpie; Pierre’s pet goose, Voltaire, who is fiercely protective (and loud); Lancelot who behaves like a curly-haired, nibbling dog and ends up being the star of the show.

Despite being a historical adventure, this reads like a contemporary story. Magpie’s first-person narration gives it an immediacy which keeps up the fast pace. There is thievery, duelling, cross-dressing and royal cameo appearances; enough to keep any young reader entertained.

Many thanks to Jazz at Chicken House Books for the gorgeously packaged advanced copy. A festive treat indeed!

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Posted by on 06/01/2018 in review


Review: Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty

9781784704919This is a perfect choice for Waterstones’ Book of the Month for January 2018.  Just as we’ve (possibly) spent a little too long in the company of relatives, and (definitely) overindulged in food, drink and the buying of things, let this story remind you of the vital essentials of life.

This novel simmers down into a deceptively simple love story of a couple in their twilight years.  Gerry and Stella Gilmore travel to Amsterdam for a post-Christmas break. As their stories gently unfold, we learn more about the lives of this architect and teacher; as parents and children, lovers and spouses, their frailties and their strengths.

Over their four days away, it becomes clear that, despite decades of happy marriage and their continued love for each other, Gerry and Stella’s lives are moving in separate directions: Gerry towards ‘just a smidgen’ more of strong drink, Stella towards a more devout Catholic life.

Both characters are Northern Irish expats living in Scotland; there is an excellent sense of place during their break in Amsterdam, with their memories of growing up on the North Eastern Irish coast and their lives together in Scotland.

This couple have a jokey, loving familiarity with each other and during their conversations and memories, their past years together are slowly revealed, returning to and circling around a significant event in their early marriage.

It was not as maudlin as I had feared; there is a great deal of dry humour, reflecting the familiarity and affection of this couple’s decades together. There was a great depth of emotion evoked; I really cared for Stella and Gerry.  (I also particularly liked the mention of my personal favourite medieval female mystic, Julian of Norwich (she of the eternally reassuring  ‘All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well’) and the Beguine community reminded me to look out my  undergraduate Theology dissertation…. I also noted the name check for Waterstones in Amsterdam: Gerry ‘liked the familiarity of the big W and the black frontage’.)

This is a subtle, internalised domestic drama of a couple in their twilight years together. It might not end far from where it began (as Gerry says, ‘the whole holiday has been a cul-de-sac’) but at its essence is an exploration of a couple remembering and learning how to cherish each other, acknowledging and then loving their differences.

This delicately nuanced portrait of a long-term relationship, their ageing together and shared significant experiences combine to make a seasonally warming read.


Thanks to Vintage Publishers for the advanced proof copy, way back in the Summer; it was worth the wait!

ISBN  978178404919 (pbk)

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Posted by on 04/01/2018 in review


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Review: Sky Song by Abi Elphinstone

Published January 2018 ISBN 978141146077 paperback

Wow! what a wild adventure!

The story of Eska, Flint, Blu, Bala and the various tribes of Erkenwald as they battle against the evil plans of the Ice Queen kept me gripped during the ‘inbetween-time’of Christmas and New Year.
This is a story of finding your voice (both literally and metaphorically), settling into your tribe, navagating your way amongst the wild, dangerous threats in the frozen North.

Abi’s ‘Letter to the Reader’ prepared me for some concoction of two of my favourite Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen and The Little Mermaid, alongside shaman, icy kingdoms and determined children. Add into the mix an enchanted music box, a warrior-inventor and the bravery of desperation, this makes for an engrossing, emotional story. Abi did not disappoint!

Sky Song is set in the imaginary kingdom of Erkenwald, a far northern place where winters are long, frozen and dark and summers are short, light and not particularly warm. There are wild bears, rock giants, enchanted wolverines and persuasive eagles. And tribes: the Fur Tribe and the Feather Tribe, alongside the little-known Wanderers.

The fairy-tale style introduction quickly sets the scene: an evil Ice Queen has taken the adults from the Fur and Feather Tribes, capturing their voices in baubles on her trees in her icy palace. Winterfang Palace is deliciously eerie, where even the candles could be spies. The Ice Queen, in the tradition of Andersen’s Snow Queen, and Lewis’ White Witch/Queen Jadis, is tall, powerful and beautiful. With her magical black staff, dress made of her prisoners’ tears and her crown of snowflakes, she’s deliciously evil. Although she already has the adults’ voices, she also needs the voice of Eska, a young girl whose memory she captures in a locked box then enchants her to become a static dancer in a music box. There Eska is to wait for midsummer’s day where the Queen will capture Eska’s voice, unleashing the power of the Sky Song and reach immortality.

Eska is a fierce red-head, but no longer knows her family, her tribe, her place in Erkenwald. All she has is her voice, one which is ‘bold and unlikely’. The Ice Queen needs this cursed voice to complete the magic to achieve her immortality.

The boy who ‘could feel himself folded further into her story’ is Flint: a boy from the Fur Tribe who is always in trouble for his ‘detours’, lack of concentration on the ‘important’ matters of his tribe (of which his brother is the interim Chief). He loves animals, inventions and his little sister, Blu; the latter two are both affectively drawn. Blu has Downs Syndrome, but cannot be dismissed (as the Ice Queen mistakenly tried to do) as she too is a fierce, brave eight year old girl who proudly loves her brother, doing her utmost to save her brother and her friends.

Flint and Eska escape Winterfang, undertake an exciting quest to foil the Ice Queen’s plans, find the Sky Horn and allow the Sky Song to keep the stars shining, destroying the Ice Queen’s selfish plan for immortality. It is fast-paced, exciting story with a great furry, feathery, beating heart of friendship. Eska and Flint find their own strengths, their places in their world, their connection alongside the wild animals of Erkenwald. As Eska says, ‘I have a voice and I’m going to make it count!’

‘I don’t think you have to fight with weapons to be a warrior,’ Eska whispered, ‘You could fight with love and tears and adventures instead. That would probably be just as good.’

Highly recommended for an 8-12 year old readership, but anyone who loves nature, wildness, adventure stories, the search for one’s sense of self. I shall be enthusiastically talking to customers long after it is Waterstones’ January Children’s Book of the Month. Excellent!

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Posted by on 31/12/2017 in review


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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