To be a Cat by Matt Haig #BookReview #Children’sFiction

To be a cat

One of my favourite books in my early teens was Jennie by Paul Gallico. It describes a boy who is hit by a car and finds himself transformed into a tough street cat.  It is a realistic tale with great pathos.  To be a Cat is different. Barney Willow is an unhappy boy who wishes to be a cat because cats seem to have a happy go lucky life.  For a year, his father has been missing and when he goes to school he is bullied, not only by a horrible boy called Gavin Needle but also by the new Headmistress, Miss Whipmire.  These larger than life characters are reminiscent of Roald Dahl, but in every other way, this story is warmer and more reassuring.  Barney has a dear friend, Rissa, who always has his back. She is really worried about him and her family are also supportive. Barney’s Mum may seem disinterested, surviving as a single mother, but she really cares for him. So becoming a cat, may in fact have thrust him into a far more dangerous world.  This really imaginative story with delightful interludes in the voice of the author provides, humour, invention and a darned good plot.

To read my Review of Matt Haig’s adult book How to Stop Time

To Be A Cat on Amazon UK

The Extraordinary Book of Doors by Anne E G Nydam #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

Turn the page… Open the door… Enter the adventure…

book of books

 

When worrywart Chen Connelly finds a mysterious antique book beneath a park bench, his safe but lonely summer suddenly becomes exciting. Perhaps a little too exciting. A book of renaissance architectural designs may not seem very exciting, until Chen finds himself traveling through the pages of the magical book with Polly Goggin, the weirdest girl he’s ever met, as they race to solve a treasure hunt left by Benjamin Franklin, struggle to find their way through a maze of mysterious doors, and dodge far too many angry security guards. It doesn’t help that a murderous, strangely nondescript magician-thief is on their trail with a magic book of his own, willing to do whatever it takes to get his hands on Benjamin Franklin’s treasure and all three extraordinary books.It begins with a book. Where will it lead?

I discovered Anne Nydam during the A to Z Challenge. The theme for her blogs was traditional English language nursery rhymes, and their block printed illustrations. Discovering that we shared an interest in books and doors I had to read this delightful children’s book.

The heroes of this story are Chen Connolly, the adopted son of the curators of Cleveland museum of Art and Polly Goggin, the eccentric 13-year-old daughter of Miranda, owner of Goggin Antiques and Auctioneers. The two meet via the pages of copies of the sixteenth century book of doors. Each embossed leather book has a gold key on the spine which turns in the block printed doors on the pages. Once unlocked, Chen and Polly (and sometimes her cat, Uber) can pass through the doors into buildings spread about the globe. At first, they are unwilling companions but finding themselves threatened by Ammon Blank, a dangerous magician thief, they use their intelligence and bravery and the help of two others to stop Mr Blank’s robberies and to return the books to their rightful owners.

I was particularly interested in the connection made during the book to Benjamin Franklin. Not being American I knew very little about him, but I was prompted to briefly research his life which proved fascinating.  I would highly recommend this book to middle years young adults and people like me who love a good adventure story with a touch of magic.

Book2

The Extraordinary Book of Doors on Amazon UK

Anne E G Nydam

 Once upon a time there was a girl who wanted to be a writer…  I was born and raised in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.  I loved it there.  In college at Yale I majored in linguistics, with a thesis at the intersection between historical and sociolinguistics.  I loved Yale and I loved linguistics.  After graduation, for reasons relating more to the desperation of a school’s staffing needs than my qualifications, I got a job teaching middle school art.  I loved teaching.  (Are you noticing a theme here?  It continues.)  Teaching art was how I became, de facto, an artist myself.  Along the way I got married, and when our children were born I became a stay-at-home mother, and realized that since I could no longer call myself a teacher, I had better make sure I could still call myself an artist and a writer.  And here I am, calling myself an artist and a writer, despite being essentially self-taught, primarily self-published, and inclined to be self-effacing. My other hobbies include gardening, playing cello, quilt-making, and failing to do housework.  Except when feeling grouchy, I love it all… And she lived happily ever after.)

https://nydamprintsblackandwhite.blogspot.com/p/curious-about-my-art-books.html

The Subtle Knife Book 2 of His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman #TuesdayBookBlog

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I read Philip Pullman’s trilogy back in the late 1990s but after watching the first series of His Dark Materials on TV I decided I would like to reread The Subtle Knife.  On TV we have already been introduced to Will Parry in parallel to Lyra’s early story, whereas in print, he is introduced, initially as the main character in this second book.  But I was reassured to find that I still found this compelling series riveting, if often distressing.

Will is an impressive boy, old before his years, formed by the fear and loneliness of looking after his mother after his father’s disappearance.  It is heartening to see him gradually grow towards Lyra as she supports him. They are both inadequately parented and aware of the importance of their destinies.  It is good to come to know more about the witch Serafina Pekkala and the adventurous Lee Scoresby. The brilliant characterisation is the key to the conviction of this story.  The daemons, which those from Lyra’s world each have, participate more actively in this book and you cannot help wanting one as part of your own soul.

The bright exciting world in which Will and Lyra find themselves in this novel, soon reveals itself to be a place of grief and the subtle knife itself, a poisoned chalice.  There are so many interesting themes taken from Paradise lost and William Blake but recognising the allusions is not necessary to the appreciation of the vast panoply of ideas within the novels.  Although very much a middle story ending on a cliff-hanger, in many ways it is my favourite.  I am very much looking forward to seeing how The Subtle Knife is presented on screen.

Jigsaw Pieces by Carol Hedges #TuesdayBookBlog #YA

Jigsaw

‘He had been part of my everyday life. I hadn’t liked him much, nobody had liked him much, but he’d been there. Now, I’d never see him again.’

This week I chose a book which many people have read several years ago.  I am an ardent fan of the Victorian detective stories of Carol Hedges, but Jigsaw Pieces is a Young Adult novel set in the early 21st century.  The heroine, Annie Skjaerstad, has a prickly, independent personality.  The thick skin she adopts to protect herself make her unappealing to her peers, but she speaks to readers in the first person, putting us firmly on her side.

Separated from her father and the country she loves, you would expect Annie to go off the rails, but although she has been bullied or ignored by her classmates, she copes with everyday life and exam pressure phlegmatically. Only in English lessons do her spirits rise. Her teacher appreciates her talent and nurtures her interest in poetry written during the First World War.

Suddenly the whole class are shocked when one of the boys commits suicide.  Grant had been unkind to her, but Annie cannot believe he would have made this decision.  Looking forward to a week’s work experience with the police force she is bitterly disappointed when she is sent to a care home instead.  Working through the week of domestic drudgery she meets someone whose early life sparks her interest. In the meantime, she tries to investigate Grant’s suicide.

This easy to read book confronts the challenges which young people are facing at this moment and I read avidly as Annie became endangered by her brave investigation.  Not just for young adults. This is a story for us all.

You can find Jigsaw Pieces on Amazon UK

If you are interested in the Young Adult books by Carol Hedges you might also enjoy The Final Virus

R is for Ratty from Wind in the Willows #AtoZChallenge

Wind  Wind in the

In the first chapter of Wind in the Willows, Mole abandons his spring cleaning and wanders down to the riverbank.  There, through a small hole in the opposite bank he spots,

A brown little face, with whiskers.  A grave round face, with the same twinkle in its eye that had first attracted his notice.  Small neat ears and thick silky hair. 

It was the Water Rat!”

Ratty invites Mole to stay with him, enjoy life on the river and meet his friends, Badger and Toad.

“Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”

Something about Ratty reminds me of Cleggie from “Last of the Summer Wine.” He is kind, friendly and well adjusted.  He has a strong sense of manners and responsibility, so he wants to make sure everyone around him feels comfortable and included.  He becomes Mole’s mentor, showing him how to enjoy exploration and new discoveries.  He trusts Badger and does his best to guide Toad towards the straight and narrow, but he is usually unsuccessful!

All my A to Z Challenge posts

 

 

 

#AtoZChallenge : O is for Owain from Dawn Wind by Rosemary Sutcliff

Dawn

“The boy lay in the silence of the great battlefield, gazing at his own hand spread on the ground beside him. The hand moved and he realized, with something like surprise, that he was not dead. His name was Owain and further up the hillside lay his father and brother, both killed by Saxon warriors in that last great battle of Aquae Sulis.”

Dawn Wind is set in 6th century Britain, telling the story of Owain, alone in the world apart from his companion, Dog, with whom he strides across the battle-scarred land. The Saxons, Angles and Jutes have conquered most of Britain and Owain is a descendent of Roman and British soldiers. After the battle near Bath, as the sole survivor, Owain walks to the ruins of Viroconium (Wroxeter) where he meets a street urchin named Regina, the only person left in the city. They learn to trust each other and form a bond. When they leave the city and are later separated, Owain becomes a thrall to a Saxon lord in the swamps near the Isle of Wight, where he spends a number of years.  The book brings to life the atmosphere of those towns left by the Romans and taken over by the British to create a haunted townscape and in contrast the busy, productive life of the thriving Saxon homesteads.

Owain is a hero it is easy to relate to, and to get emotionally involved with.  He gives away years of his life out of honour, even though his own desire is to find Regina again.

Have you read Dawn Wind or only The more famous book by Rosemary Sutcliff, The Eagle of the Ninth?

 

The Architect’s Apprentice by Colin Garrow (The Maps of Time Book 1) #BookReview

Old Books and time travel – what more could you want?

Architects Apprentice

 London, 1630. A boy searching for his father. A villain stealing books.

Forced to work for the dubious Savidge, eleven-year-old Tom Fennel is desperate to find his missing father. Distrustful of what he’s heard, he’s sure Savidge is involved. Meanwhile, books are vanishing from architect Martin Deacon’s library – books from the future. Enticed into the mysterious world of updrafts and secrets, Tom learns that finding his father is the least of his worries.

Tom is an intelligent, courageous hero, determined to find the truth even though that requires taking dangerous doors and updraughts into the near future.  Despite these time slips, the novel is grounded in the mire, deception and poverty of 17th century London. Aided by Emily, a confident young companion, and by his sister, Sarah, mute since the disappearance of their father, Tom must decide which adults can be trusted.

The plot is hectic and, at times, confusing but the reader is carried along by the amazing idea and the tension of Tom’s predicament. No-one is safe and some scenes are distressing but good can triumph.  A conclusion is reached but many threads remain to be followed into the next book in “The Maps of Time” series. A lively read for anyone aged 11 to 60 plus.

The Architect’s Apprentice is available at Amazon UK

Garrow

Colin Garrow

Colin Garrow grew up in a former mining town in Northumberland. He has worked in a plethora of professions including: taxi driver, antiques dealer, drama facilitator, theatre director and fish processor, and has occasionally masqueraded as a pirate. All Colin’s books are available as eBooks and most are also out in paperback, too.

His short stories have appeared in several literary mags, including: SN Review, Flash Fiction Magazine, Word Bohemia, Every Day Fiction, The Grind, A3 Review, 1,000 Words, Inkapture and Scribble Magazine. He currently lives in a humble cottage in North East Scotland where he writes novels, stories, poems and the occasional song.

He also makes rather nice cakes.

The Slave City: Book 3 of The Viper and the Urchin series by Celine Jeanjean #NewRelease #SteamPunk #TuesdayBookBlog

 A complicated mission.
A team of misfits that just don’t get along.
What could possibly go wrong?

slave city

Longinus
“Everything about Longinus was conspicuous, from the way he spoke to the way he dressed. He stuck out like a whore in a convent, with his teal silk shirt, burnt-orange trousers and hat with an elaborate teal-and-orange feather arrangement. He wore his hair almost down to his shoulders and it always looked as though he had just stepped out of the barber’s. With his thin moustache and elegant, jewel-encrusted sword at his hip, he looked as though he belonged in a bygone era.”

Rory
“She was so slight that she looked as though a breath of wind might knock her over. She had put some weight on since her days as a scrawny street urchin, but she didn’t seem to get any bigger. Her small frame looked all the smaller for the masses of hair that dwarfed her. It was matted and clumped in thick segments more like rope than hair, trailing down her back. But Rory’s eyes were blue. Damsians were a dark people- dark of skin, dark of eye and black of hair. She had the dark skin of a Damsian, and at a glance, she could pass for one. But her blue eyes marked her out as having foreign blood too.”

My Review

I was excited to hear of a new book in the story of former street urchin, Rory and her friend, Longinus the assassin. This time they leave Damsport to travel with Cruikshank, the Machinist, who has been sent on a covert mission to the city of Azyr. Believing they will help Raheeme, a Reformist, to bring slavery to an end and provide water for the poorest of the city, they set out on the smuggling ship of Adelma, a massive, powerful woman they will be glad to have on their side. But they soon discover they are pawns in a power struggle in a hot, dangerous city and Rory is glad to have brave Varanguard, Rafe, accompanying them, even though her feelings for him are still complicated.

The larger than life characters in the Viper and the Urchin series are vivid, extraordinary, yet so real. I cannot help feeling affection for Rory, and Longinus may be a peacock, but his heart is definitely in the right place. In contrast, The Slave City contains a worthy villain in the evil Seneschal who manipulates the obese Prelate, a mere figurehead. Rory and her companions must discover who is trustworthy and who will deceive them, while Cruikshank suffers greatly.

The City of Azyr with its magnificent palace atop a steep hill and dust-covered, ramshackle huts for the poor at the lowest level spells out the structure of society so different to the mishmash of ethnicity and wealth in Damsport. Like a story from the Arabian Nights the vision of Palanquins and mechanised elephants, with richly dressed people served by slaves, is beautifully described, as is the horrific scene in the bloodstained arena. This is a thrilling, frightening adventure.

You can find Slave City on Amazon.com  and Amazon.co.uk

My Review of The Bloodless Assassin

celine

Celine Jeanjean

Celine Jeanjean is French, grew up in the UK and now lives in Hong Kong. That makes her a tad confused about where she is from. During her time in Asia she’s watched the sun rise over Angkor Wat, lost her shoes in Vietnam, and fallen off a bamboo raft in China.

Celine writes stories that feature quirky characters and misfits, and her books are a mixture of steampunk, fantasy and humour.

You can get a free novella by signing up to her mailing list here: http://celinejeanjean.com/the-pickpocket-free/

The Bridge of Dead Things by Michael Gallagher #FridayReads #BookReview

Bridge

This Young Adult book is the first story about 13 year-old Lizzie Blaylock, the involuntary Medium. Set in late Victorian London, Lizzie has been fortunate in receiving an education despite the poverty of her family. But this ceases, when a strange fit in the classroom causes teacher, Miss Smutts to expel her. Miss Smutts’ motives are suspect since she arranges employment for Lizzie as a maidservant in a rather odd household. Lizzie’s fit has revealed her special power to allow ghostly manifestations to return from the dead. Soon this gothic novel becomes darker as Lizzie is taken under the wing of Simeon de Florence, who purports to expose false mediums. There is relief from the weird experiences in the humorous characters we meet, such as Miss Otis, the kindly clairvoyant and the obsession with seances by many wealthy Victorians provides an exciting setting. I feel that Lizzie is more like a 20th century heroine in her speech and actions but the Victorian context is vividly described.

You can purchase The Bridge of Dead Things at Amazon UK

Gallagher

Michael Gallagher

Michael Gallagher is the author of two series of novels set in Victorian times. “Send for Octavius Guy” chronicles the attempts of fourteen-year-old Gooseberry—reformed master pickpocket—to become a detective, aided and abetted by his ragtag bunch of friends. “The Involuntary Medium” follows the fortunes of young Lizzie Blaylock, a girl who can materialize the spirits of the dead, as she strives to come to terms with her unique gift.

For twenty-five years Michael taught adults with learning disabilities at Bede, a London-based charity that works with the local community. He now writes full time.

The Final Virus by Carol Hedges

 

Final V

This dystopian Young adult novel is set in a bland, pleasant, boring town where a group of intelligent teenagers are “educated” at a school which aims to make them amenable to the World Presidential dictatorship.  Following a cybercrash, global warming, natural disasters and disease, continents had disappeared and the world’s population vastly depleted.

 

But we have a very likeable hero in 17-year-old Will; distraught by the sudden death of his father he still manages to give emotional support to his little sister.  Handsome and popular, he hasn’t taken much notice of oddball, Amber, who takes little interest in her hair or clothes and seems to be in a dream most of the day.  However, they are drawn together by their unease about the apparent “good life” they are leading.  Amber is the genetically engineered daughter of wealthy parents she hardly sees but she hears voices and constantly dreams of the four horses of the apocalypse.  Will is convinced that his father’s death is no accident.

 

It is easy to engage with the main characters, while the callous teacher Mr Neots, has a splendid Dahlesque quality.  There is great humour in the creation of Ned, the voice-responsive computer.  His ability to produce essays for Will’s homework, while also exhibiting a distinct attitude problem, lightens the feeling of impending disaster.

 

As Will and Amber realise that the government cannot be trusted and that Will is under observation, the plot moves rapidly and they find themselves in more danger as they approach the truth.

 

I particularly liked the concluding chapters though I couldn’t possibly reveal their content!