Book Review: The House with Chicken Legs (Sophie Anderson)

Publisher: Usborne Publishing

Release Date: May 3rd 2018

Summary (from Goodreads):

All 12-year-old Marinka wants is a friend. A real friend. Not like her house with chicken legs. Sure, the house can play games like tag and hide-and-seek, but Marinka longs for a human companion. Someone she can talk to and share secrets with.

But that’s tough when your grandmother is a Yaga, a guardian who guides the dead into the afterlife. It’s even harder when you live in a house that wanders all over the world . . . carrying you with it. Even worse, Marinka is being trained to be a Yaga. That means no school, no parties–and no playmates that stick around for more than a day.

So when Marinka stumbles across the chance to make a real friend, she breaks all the rules . . . with devastating consequences. Her beloved grandmother mysteriously disappears, and it’s up to Marinka to find her–even if it means making a dangerous journey to the afterlife.

Review:

I was lucky enough to receive a copy of this book from the author, so big thanks to you, Sophie 🙂 I’ve been excited about this coming out since she told me about it and I am so delighted with the finished book.

Marinka has spent her whole life living with her grandmother, Baba Yaga, in their house with chicken legs, moving from place to place, guiding the dead and never making friends with the living. Marinka doesn’t want to learn to guide the dead, so when she has the chance to make a real, living friend she risks everything for a life she can’t have.

This book is just brimming with magic and wonder on every page and I couldn’t read it fast enough. I’ve heard a few stories about Baba Yaga and I loved how this story wove originality with the traditional stories to create something really special.

Marinka is a great protagonist: she’s headstrong and a little selfish at times, but also thoughtful and brave and her loneliness will resonate with every young person (and old like me too!) You can really feel her yearning for true companionship and a ‘normal’ life and I understood it, even if sometimes I wanted to tell her how lucky she was to have Baba and the house!

The other characters in the book are just as wonderful. I loved Baba Yaga: her warmth and welcoming of the dead and her relationship with the house was just adorable. And the house! It’s a character in its own right, not just a house that can walk but one with a playful and caring personality. Sometimes it was hard to imagine not loving that house, and it was great to see Marinka’s relationship with it grow and change over the book.

The story is beautifully told through poetic prose and Marinka’s first-person narration lets you feel all her emotions as her world is turned upside down. I truly felt for her as the only life she knew began to unravel. The story took some twists I didn’t expect and it all came together in the most perfect ending.

The book itself is gorgeous too: the cover is stunning and sure to catch anyone’s eye on the shelf, but in addition to this there are lovely little black and white illustrations throughout the book. It’s just another little thing that lets you know how truly special this book is.

This is a remarkable book with a magical, vivid cast of characters and a heartwarming message about family, destiny and acceptance. This is one that I can’t wait to share with Little Moore when he’s older and I know I’ll enjoy re-reading it again and again. A must read for 2018 – do yourself and the young person in your life a favour and buy this book!

March Wrap Up

It’s been a couple of months since my last wrap up post and, predictably, all my good blogging resolutions have gone out the window.

Truth is, at the moment I just don’t have the time or inclination to blog. When I do have some spare time, I really don’t want to be back at my laptop. It’s sad that I don’t feel the same way I used to about it, but that’s how things go, I guess.

I’ve recently been promoted and am going back to working full time. Between that and my own writing and looking after Little Moore (who is becoming quite a handful!) I am struggling to find time to read, let alone blog.

With that said, I’m not going to promise to do better next month. I’ll put out a few reviews for books I’ve been sent, but I’m not going to promise to post regularly. Sorry!

For now, I’ll do a double wrap up post for February and March, just so I can share all the wonderful books I’ve read.

What I Read 

I’ve lowered my Goodreads challenge from 100 books to 80, just to be a bit more realistic. I might get rid of it completely – I feel it’s been pressuring me to read as fast as I can and that’s stopping me enjoying what I’m reading.

Goodbye, Perfect by Sara Barnard

The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed

Norse Myths: Tales of Odin, Thor and Loki by Kevin Crossley-Holland

Secrets of a Teenage Heiress by Katy Birchall

All About Mia by Lisa Williamson

Brightstorm by Vashti Hardy

Just So Happens by Fumio Obata

The Exact Opposite of Okay by Laura Steven

The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson

She, Myself and I by Emma Young

The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu

Savage Island by Bryony Pearce

Almost Love by Louise O’Neill

As Old As Time by Liz Braswell

Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Clean by Juno Dawson

 

Book Post

Again, this is a bit of a catch up from the last few months, but I’ve had some really fab book post in the last couple of months.

She Persisted Around the World by Chelsea Clinton

Thanks Nina Douglas PR!

The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson

Thanks Sophie!

The Exact Opposite of Okay by Laura Steven

Thanks Egmont!

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

Thanks Electric Monkey!

And I’ve also had some wonderful books via NetGalley:

I Was Born for This by Alice Oseman

Thanks Harper Collins Children’s Books!

We Are Young by Cat Clarke

Thanks Hachette Children’s Books!

Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian

Thanks Macmillan Children’s Books!

Almost Love by Louise O’Neill

Thanks Quercus Books!

What I Wrote:

Over the last two months, I have finished my WIP (finally!) I’ve also written a short story for a competition (fingers crossed but not holding my breath) and also started throwing a few ideas around for a new novel.

What I Did

As I mentioned above, I have a new job, which I’m really pleased about. There’s been a lot of changes going on at work and I’m excited for some new challenges ahead (even if it means doing a full working week again!) The bonus side of this is that Nathan is reducing his hours so now we’ll have some time off together, which will be great.

What Little Moore Did

Little Moore is now two and is a right bossy so-and-so! He loves telling me what to do. He had a great time at the Sea Life Centre for his birthday and got far too many toys (mostly cars, he’s obsessed with them!) We also enjoyed an Easter egg hunt with his cousin and the boys loved searching for painted eggs (and some chocolate ones too!)

YA Shot Interview with Kerry Drewery

Today on the blog, as part of the #YAShot2017 blog tour, I have a fab interview with Kerry Drewery, talking about her Cell 7 series.

When did you first get the idea for your Cell 7 series?

I first started thinking about Cell 7 way back in 2014. I wanted to write something exploring the death penalty, but as we don’t have the death penalty here, I started exploring different ways I could do it.

Did you always plan for it to be a trilogy or did it grow as you wrote it?

I initially wrote it as a standalone, but there were a lot of unanswered questions. Having the space to explore it over three books and really flesh out all the situations and characters was wonderful.

The story is written from several points of view – did you have a favourite to write?

Not really. I enjoyed writing the sections from Martha’s point of view because I could really get in her head and explore what she was thinking. In the first book I especially like the sections with Martha and Eve – I like their relationship.

It was great to be able to write in different ways though, and I did especially enjoy the script. It’s just a different way of writing – it feels more immediate.

Scenes from the Death is Justice TV show played a key part in the story – what made you include these rather than showing a character watching the show?

I originally tried writing them in third person, but it was way to clunky and far too much ‘he said, she said’ – it just didn’t work. Writing it from the point of view of someone watching it would’ve been much the same, and it would’ve been more removed from the characters. I think that distance would’ve pushed the reader too far away from the story.

There’s some pretty heart-wrenching scenes across the series – which was the hardest to write?

There was one particular scene in Final 7 which was very hard to write, and I did think long and hard about it. But it was right for the story – it had to be done. I don’t want to say too much and accidentally give spoilers!

The end of Final 7 is a bit ominous – do you envision a happy ending for Martha and her friends?

The whole trilogy was always Martha’s story. Although not a typically sweetness and light ending, the end of Final 7 left her in a much better place than the beginning of Cell 7, and I feel was more realistic. That point, as far as I see it, was the end of her story.

And here are my quick-fire questions to round off with:

What are you reading at the moment?

The Goose Road by Rowena House

Favourite book as a child?

The Swish of the Curtain by Pamela Brown

Favourite writing drink and snack?

Coffee and custard creams!

5 desert island books?

Oh that’s hard! Errmmm…

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The Chrysalids by John Wyndham

Nothing by Janne Teller

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

But ask me tomorrow and it’ll probably be different!

Favourite place to read?

Curled up on the sofa in front of the fire, with a cup of coffee.

Any hidden talents?

I do triathlons. This September I’ll be representing GB (for my age group) in the long distance championship in Madrid. That’s 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, and a marathon.

What fictional world would you love to live in?

I’d probably go back in time and live in the world of Swallows and Amazons! Messing about on the river in the summer with no cares in the world!

Thanks so much to Kerry for the interview. You can find Kerry on Facebook here, and on Twitter @KerryDrewery

Also, the lovely folks at Bonnier Zaffre have offered a copy of Cell 7 for one lucky winner! Enter the Rafflecopter below to be in with a chance to win!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And finally, a huge thanks to the whole YA Shot Team for organising their amazing events and this blog tour! You can check out more of the stops on the YA Shot website here.

Book Review: The Truth About Alice (Jennifer Mathieu)

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

Publisher: Hodder Children’s Books

Pages: 336

Release Date: March 8th 2018

Summary (from Goodreads):

Everyone knows Alice slept with two guys at one party.
But did you know Alice was sexting Brandon when he crashed his car?
It’s true. Ask ANYBODY.

Rumour has it that Alice Franklin is a slut. It’s written all over the ‘slut stall’ in the girls’ bathroom at Healy High for everyone to see. And after star quarterback Brandon Fitzsimmons dies in a car accident, the rumours start to spiral out of control.

In this remarkable novel, four Healy High students – the party girl, the car accident survivor, the ex best friend and the boy next door – tell all they know.

But exactly what is the truth about Alice? In the end there’s only one person to ask: Alice herself.

Review:

This was a really interesting book told from several different points of view. Everyone at school has an opinion about Alice and what a slut she is, but no one asks Alice what the truth is. Each of the narrators knows a rumour about Alice that isn’t true, but none of them will admit it to everyone else, so the rumours around Alice grow out of control.

The other characters in the book are just as stereotyped as Alice: the popular girl, the jock, the nerd and they all have their own secrets to hide, as well as their truths about Alice. I loved the way each of them started out sounding every bit the high school clique but the more you read, the more they become real, 3D characters and not cliches.

The split narrative worked really well in this book. It felt like a character study rather than a plot-driven story, with each person revealing a little more of themselves and Alice each time. They all had distinct voices and I loved the different perspective each one brought.

This book showed the reasons behind everyone’s lies and how that led to rumours and often cruel treatment of Alice. Although there’s definitely malice from some, others are just trying to fit in or cover up their own secrets. While that doesn’t excuse their behaviour, it humanises them and adds depths to this story.

I’ve been reading a lot of books on feminism and treatment of women lately and this was another that really set me thinking. I think it is essential reading for teenagers and will definitely be recommending it to everyone I can.

Book Review: She, Myself and I (Emma Young)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Stripes Publishing

Pages: 352

Release Date: March 8th 2018

Summary (from Goodreads):

Ever since Rosa’s nerve disease rendered her quadriplegic, she’s depended on her handsome, confident older brother to be her rock and her mirror. But when a doctor from Boston chooses her to be a candidate for an experimental brain transplant, she and her family move from London in search of a miracle. Sylvia—a girl from a small town in Massachusetts—is brain dead, and her parents have agreed to donate her body to give Rosa a new life. But when Rosa wakes from surgery, she can’t help but wonder, with increasing obsession, who Sylvia was and what her life was like. Her fascination with her new body and her desire to understand Sylvia prompt a road trip based on self-discovery… and a surprising new romance. But will Rosa be able to solve the dilemma of her identity?

Review:

This book had a really interesting premise and deals with themes of identity and what makes you, you.

Rosa has a nerve disease that means she is a quadriplegic, but is offered a new chance at life with an experimental brain transplant. But after the surgery Rosa questions who she really is and obsesses over Sylvia, the girl whose body she now has. She embarks on a journey to discover more about who Sylvia was and who Rosa is now.

There’s a great idea behind this book but I felt the pacing was a little slow for me. There’s a lot of Rosa questioning who she is and not a lot of action. I thought her approach to the new body was a bit strange. While I’ve never been in that situation so can’t say for sure, I feel like I’d be more excited about being able to walk again and less worried about not being myself anymore. But I suppose teenagers often struggle with their identity so it must be doubly hard when you don’t see your own face in the mirror.

Where this book really got to me was when Rosa met Sylvia’s father. I felt more for his position than for Rosa: I can’t imagine losing Little Moore, donating his body and then knowing he’s walking around out there, even if there’s someone else in his head. Knowing that his body is out there living and aging but he’s not my boy anymore is just painful.

There’s a romance story with Rosa and Joe, a reporter she meets outside the hospital. I liked his background story and could see how it linked in with Rosa, but I didn’t really feel the need for a love story in this. I thought Rosa’s relationship with her brother, Elliot, was a lot more interesting and would have liked her to take this journey of discovery with him instead.

Also, tiny pet peeve but as Rosa is supposed to be from England it annoyed me that she mentioned the ‘fall’ leaves a few times.

This was an interesting and thought-provoking book with a fascinating concept but a slow pace and little action dragged it down for me.

Book Review: The Exact Opposite of Okay (Laura Steven)

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

Publisher: Electric Monkey

Pages: 337

Release Date: March 8th 2018

Summary (from Goodreads):

Izzy O’Neill is an aspiring comic, an impoverished orphan, and a Slut Extraordinaire. Or at least, that’s what the malicious website flying round the school says. Izzy can try all she wants to laugh it off – after all, her sex life, her terms – but when pictures emerge of her doing the dirty with a politician’s son, her life suddenly becomes the centre of a national scandal. Izzy’s never been ashamed of herself before, and she’s not going to start now. But keeping her head up will take everything she has…

Review:

This is one of those books which just clicked right away for me.

Izzy is an amazing narrator: she’s funny, she’s sensitive – in her own way – and she just reads like a teenage girl. I immediately connected with her and her life: the way she uses comedy to shield herself from things, the way family means more to her than throwing everything into a pipe dream. It’s odd to get that narrative in a book – usually, it’s all ‘follow your dreams’, no matter the consequences. I liked that Izzy had ambitions, but also at her core wanted to take care of her Grandma Betty, who’d worked really hard to look after Izzy after her parents died.

At a party one night, Izzy has sex with two boys, one who happens to be a local politician’s son, and someone takes pictures and suddenly everyone knows about it. While Izzy is called a slut and degraded at every opportunity, there’s little to no fall out for the boys involved. And, as Izzy says, that is the exact opposite of okay.

This is such a current topic, with talks about revenge porn, consent and feminism featuring prominently in the media at the moment. My favourite thing about it was that Izzy constantly affirms to herself that she did nothing wrong. Despite everyone’s opinions about it – and everyone is more than ready to share those opinions – there’s nothing wrong with being a girl and enjoying sex and having sex with multiple partners. If that’s what you want to do, as long as you’re safe about it, that should be fine. It’s fine when we talk about guys doing it. So why is it that when a girl does it, she’s branded a slut and told she should kill herself?

This book happily sits alongside some of my favourite feminist young adult books, including The Spinster Trilogy by Holly Bourne as well as books that deal with consent and treatment of girls, like Asking For It by Louise O’Neill. It’s the kind of book I want to give to my teenage sisters, to inspire them and empower them, because that’s how I felt reading this book. I would have loved this as a teenager.

It’s not all empowerment though – for a funny book, there are some seriously dark and sad moments in this. Even though Izzy tries to hold her head high and let things wash over her, it’s hard when you’re the target of so much hate. I wanted to cry a few times throughout the book because I just felt so bad for Izzy.

There’s also some interesting bits on the ‘friend zone’ and ‘nice guy’ syndrome. You know the type: the ones who have been nice to you, listened to you moan about other boys and been there for you, then suddenly decide that means they’re entitled to your love. It’s interesting the way the nice guy in the story is portrayed, as you can see in his head he is doing things right by Izzy, but from her point of view it’s insulting and creepy and just ruining their friendship. It’s not something I’ve seen in a book before and it’s a great way of pointing out to teens as something to look out for. Remember, you don’t owe guys anything, no matter how ‘nice’ they’ve been to you!

Overall this was just a really fantastic read. It can be uncomfortable and upsetting at points, but sometimes I think the best books are. It will really make you think, make you laugh, and hopefully you’ll come away from it feeling as inspired and empowered as I did.


Copy of an art exhibit

Happy 2nd Birthday Little Moore!

Today we are celebrating Little Moore’s 2nd birthday. My goodness, how time has flown!

I know it’s the cliche thing to say but I just don’t know where the time has gone. It’s crazy to look at my little boy now, toddling around and having conversations with me when not so long ago he was just this tiny thing that could only cry.

He’s developed over the last year. Definitely in the tooth department – this time last year he was still toothless, now he has 12 – still a long way to go but we’re getting there!

 He’s really confident on his feet now and his language skills are really well developed. Some of my favourite things he says:

‘See you soon’ (in a Sean Connery style ‘Shee you shoon’)

‘Oh no, Mama, baby’ (when I’m hurt)

‘One more Sam please’ (when he wants to watch more Fireman Sam)

He loves singing too, and joins along as we do Wheels on the Bus, or does all the noises for Old Macdonald.

He loves pulling faces and making us all laugh.

He’s still obsessed with cars and we have way too many hiding in all sorts of places around the house (including a ride in Jaguar). He also has a dolls house, where he likes to push the Mummy and Daddy dolls down the stairs.

We have lots of lovely days out planned to celebrate this week and I’m looking forward to spending a week as a family 🙂

Book Review: Brightstorm (Vashti Hardy)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Scholastic

Pages: 352

Release Date: March 1st 2018

Summary (from Goodreads):

Twins Arthur and Maudie receive word in Lontown that their famous explorer father died in a failed attempt to reach South Polaris. Not only that, but he has been accused of trying to steal fuel from his competitors before he died! The twins don’t believe the news, and they answer an ad to help crew a new exploration attempt in the hope of learning the truth and salvaging their family’s reputation. As the winged ship Aurora sets sail, the twins must keep their wits about them and prove themselves worthy of the rest of the crew. But will Arthur and Maudie find the answers they seek?

Review:

This was a fantastic middle-grade story, jam-packed full of action and adventure, family and friends and flying machines!

When Arthur and Maudie’s father is reported dead on a mission, after supposedly stealing fuel from another explorer, they set out to complete his mission and clear his name.

I loved the pace of this story. So much happened in such a short space of time: it moved quickly from one thing to the next, not lingering too long on anything so even the sad moments aren’t sad for too long.

There’s a great host of characters, not least of which are the twins. Arthur is desperate to prove he is useful on the ship, despite having only one arm, and to clear his father’s name, so much so that he sometimes doesn’t think before he acts. I loved how smart and practical Maudie was, and how supportive she was of her brother.Their captain, Harriet Culpepper, is an amazing leader, and there’s a villain that’ll make your toes curl too.

I also want to shout out to the amazing cover – it’s so beautiful I could stare at it all day. I’m sure a lot of people will pick it up off the shelves based on its looks alone, and they won’t be disappointed by what’s inside!

This is such a fun book with a host of quirky characters and non-stop action and adventure from start to finish. Get this for the young readers in your life and let them join Arthur and Maudie on the adventure of a lifetime!

4

Book Review: Secrets of a Teenage Heiress (Katy Birchall)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Egmont Publishing

Pages: 320

Release Date: January 11th 2018

Summary (from Goodreads):

Flick’s family have owned The Royale – one of London’s most prestigious hotels – for generations. But Flick isn’t that interested. She is interested in the newest guest – superstar celebrity Skylar Chase, and Sky’s mega-famous group of friends, including dreamy YouTube star, Ethan Duke. But just as Flick gets the chance to join their glittering squad, she gets grounded following an unfortunate incident involving a prince, a wardrobe and a selfie stick (it could have happened to anyone!). With only her Instagram star pet dachshund, Fritz, for company, will Flick find a way to escape The Royale and join the fame game?

Review:

Flick lives in Hotel Royale, London’s most prestigious hotel, and where pop sensation Skylar Chase is staying. Against the odds, Flick gets the chance to hang out with Skylar and her celebrity friends, just as she gets grounded.

I was craving an easy and fun read and I knew this wouldn’t let me down. Like Katy Birchall’s It Girl series, this was funny and happy and packed full of jokes and fun friendships.

I wasn’t too keen on Flick at first. She’s a bit spoilt and entitled and bratty and some of the things she said really annoyed me, especially the way she treated some of the hotel workers: I’ve been in that kind of job and I would not have liked a girl like her! Luckily she grows throughout the book and comes to realise how much work goes into running the hotel.

Flick really came into her own at the end when she put together a special event for Skylar, organising the whole thing and using her newfound knowledge of the hotel and staff to make things run smoothly. It really showed how much she’d changed and grown.

I really liked Cal and his relationship with Flick, even if she did mistreat him a lot. He felt real, while Flick often had her head in the clouds. Grace was another wonderful character, a true friend to Flick when she needed it and just a good laugh overall. Also loved the little mentions of Anna and her family from the IT Girl series!

This was a really fun read with a lot of character growth and I’m interested to see where Flick will go next. I passed the book on to my eleven-year-old cousin, who read it in two days and loved it. This is a perfect fun read for young teens.

4

Book Review: In Real Life (Cory Doctorow & Jen Wang)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Square Fish

Pages: 175

Release Date: February 13th 2018

Summary:

Anda loves Coarsegold Online, the massively-multiplayer role playing game that she spends most of her free time on. It’s a place where she can be a leader, a fighter, a hero. It’s a place where she can meet people from all over the world, and make friends. Gaming is, for Anda, entirely a good thing.

But things become a lot more complicated when Anda befriends a gold farmer–a poor Chinese kid whose avatar in the game illegally collects valuable objects and then sells them to players from developed countries with money to burn. This behavior is strictly against the rules in Coarsegold, but Anda soon comes to realize that questions of right and wrong are a lot less straightforward when a real person’s real livelihood is at stake.

Review:

This is an interesting short read with gorgeous art and a well-intentioned message – I just think it tried to cover too much in a short space.

After a school visit from one of the organisers of Coarsegold Online, Anda starts playing the game with a group of female gamers. I enjoyed this aspect of the story: it touched on sexism and misogyny in gaming and Coarsegold offered a safe and welcoming space for female gamers. This was really interesting and was great for Anda’s character development.

We then get to the point of the story: Anda meets Raymond, a gold farmer in the game, who’s an overworked teenager in China in real life. Gold farmers in games are often from third world countries and they collect in-game items and valuable objects to sell to other players for real life money. Anda’s friends in the game point out how that’s not in the spirit of the game and they start targeting groups of gold farmers. However, when Anda speaks Raymond, she sees the terrible predicament he’s in: he needs this job to survive, not in the game but in real life.

Anda then decides she has to help him in some way. She tells Raymond that he and his friends should demand healthcare from their employer, which of course leads to him getting fired. Anda spreads a message among the other gold farmers to try and find Raymond, who turns up at the end and says he’s got a better a job now. And that’s basically it.

Everything felt a bit simplified when this is a complex issue. While I know there were good intentions there, I just don’t think it all came across well. Anda’s help came across more as some kind of white saviour complex and it only made matters worse for Raymond: nothing she did really helped him, though I see how she was changed for the better by meeting him and gaining some understanding of another country and culture.

On the plus side, there was a positive message about female gaming and feeling comfortable with yourself, and the art by Jen Wang is just fantastic. I think this book was too short to really explore all the issues it wanted to and it just wasn’t for me.