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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: Brightstorm by Vashti Hardy

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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: 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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