Tag Archives: child protagonist

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Eye of the North by Sinéad O’Hart


I wanted to read and review more YA and children’s books this year, so when this one caught my eye due to the interesting premise, I requested it and couldn’t be more pleased. It’s a delight…

When Emmeline’s scientist parents mysteriously disappear, she finds herself heading for a safe house, where allies have pledged to protect her. But along the way, things don’t go as planned…

This steampunk adventure is huge fun that hits the ground running and doesn’t let up until the end. Emmeline is brought up a solitary child in a creepy house infested with all sorts of dangerous creatures and is more or less left to get on with it as her scientist parents have to do a lot of travelling. Until a fateful day when everything goes wrong… Do try to avoid reading the blurb which is far too chatty and gives away more of the plot than is necessary. That said, there is plenty of plot in this action-packed story brimful of interesting, likeable characters. Generally I am not a huge fan of stories where yet another set of new characters pop up in each scene, but somehow O’Hart manages to pull it off. Other than Emmeline, whose gritty self-assurance gets her through all sorts of tight spots, my favourite character has to be Thing, the vagabond boy she encounters on the liner. But there are plenty of other enjoyable, strong-minded characters to choose from as steampunk tends to roll along with lots of action and relatively little angst. It was when Thing had a wobble about his grim childhood that I bonded with him and felt that vulnerability gave him more reader-appeal.

There is also a pleasing number of unpleasant villains ranged against Emmeline and the people trying to prevent the impending apocalypse – my favourite is Doctor Siegfried Bauer as he is so magnificently horrible, especially to poor Emmeline. But the North Witch is also a thoroughly nasty character who poses all sorts of problems. Once the action really takes off, we have the two main protagonists, Emmeline and Thing alternating in telling the story, occasionally interspersed by other members of the supporting cast. O’Hart’s strong writing and deft handling of the rising tension makes this a really gripping read that didn’t want to let me go when I should have been up and about instead of finishing the book.

The denouement has to deliver after so much energy and tension has been expended during the rising action and in this case, it does, while all the dangling plotpoints are satisfactorily tidied up. I’m very much hoping that this book does well, because although I cannot see any sign of this being the first in a series, I’d love to read more about Emmeline and her family in another madcap adventure. Recommended for precocious readers from 10/11 years old onwards.


Friday Faceoff – Lucy in the sky with diamonds…


This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week the theme is featuring a psychedelic cover, so I’ve gone with Life of Pi by Yann Martel. To be honest, I’m not sure if these covers are particularly psychedelic – but I love the swirling patterns, so went for them anyway.


This cover, produced by Penguin Random House in 2011, is my favourite. I just love the clever use of pattern with the dark blue and black swirls – and it wasn’t until I looked a bit more closely, I realised the detail of the boy represented the tiger’s eye. I am also delighted the publisher chose not to smother the clever, classy design with a load of blurb.


This French edition was produced by Gallimard Education in November 2009. I would like the swirling tiger stripes far more if there wasn’t that great big ugly blue block bang in the middle of the cover sporting a very boring font for both title and author. That blue strip is at least twice the size necessary and I’m trying hard to think of any reason why anyone would think it is anything other than scabrous blot on an otherwise attractive design.


Published in May 2003 by Canongate Books, this is one of the most popular cover designs for the book and rightly so. You might not think that is a big deal, but there are dozens of different covers for this book – I was spoilt for choice. I happen to like this one very much. Not only is it eye-catching and attractive, it very deftly sums up the plight of the main character in a startlingly effective way.


Produced in November 2012 by Canongate, I’m guessing this is the cover of the film. That said, it is both striking and attractive while managing to keep spurious details about the film to the bare minimum. If there weren’t other such strong contenders, this one would be in the running.


This offering, published in May 2004 by Mariner Books/Harvest Books, is another lovely cover with that fabulous sky and seascape featuring the boat. I very much like the subtle detailing around the edge and again, I appreciate the economy of the title and author fronts. All in all, while I may not have hit the brief with sufficient psychedelia, I think this week I have a series of rather lovely covers. Which is your favourite?

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 31st January, 2018


40276268 – vintage old pocket watch and book

Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – The Eye of the North by Sinéad O’Hart

#fantasy #children’s

When Emmeline’s scientist parents mysteriously disappear, she finds herself heading for a safe house, where allies have pledged to protect her. But along the way, she is kidnapped by the villainous Doctor Siegfried Bauer, who is bound for the ice fields of Greenland. There he hopes to summon a mystical creature from the depths of the ancient glaciers, a creature said to be so powerful that whoever controls it can control the world.

I did really well with my reading challenge last year – but failed dismally in my attempt to read more children’s and YA fiction, so I’m trying to ensure I read more Netgalley arcs aimed at youngsters. I rather liked the sound of this one – and if it looks promising, maybe I can recommend it to the granddaughter. This edition is due out on 8th February.

Friday Faceoff – It’s only words, and words are all I have…


This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer and is currently hosted by Lynn’s Book Blog. This week the theme is a cover featuring words, so I’ve gone with Room by Emma Donoghue.


This cover, produced by Little, Brown in September 2010, is very simple. Just the single word crayoned across the cover in different colours. But it is sufficiently different to make you stop and look twice – and when you know the protagonist is five years old, then it makes sense. I think it’s clever and eye-catching.


This edition was produced by Picador Classic in June 2015 as a Kindle edition, so I appreciate that this one needs to sing out as a thumbnail, but my problem with it is that the pale blue with the reflected sunlight gives a light, airy feel. And when you read Jack’s account – even the five year old is describing a cramped, cold and damp place without much light. However, that doesn’t prevent it being eye-catching and attractive.


Published in August 2010 by Picador, this cover is just boring. Especially as it ruins the simplicity by covering the blue backdrop with lots of blurb, clearly showing that not even the publishers felt the cover stood on its own merits. This is the one I really dislike.


Produced in 2012 by Picador 40, this black and white cover is very effective. I far prefer the image of the mines and stone walls surrounding the little shed to the pale blue of the other covers. I think the black and white is striking and would certainly grab my attention on the bookshelves. This one is my favourite.


This Picador offering, published in July 2010, has the small shed that features in the failed attempted above, but also has a blurred image of a small boy sitting on the floor. This addition makes all the difference, I think. There is something very poignant about it and turns the idea from something implied to the reality of imprisoning a child. Which is your favourite?

Review of NETGALLEY arc The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor


I’m not normally a fan of long blurbs, but this one manages to neatly sum up a fairly complex story without giving away any major spoilers, so for once, I’m not going to prune it…

1917… It was inexplicable, impossible, but it had to be true—didn’t it? When two young cousins, Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright from Cottingley, England, claim to have photographed fairies at the bottom of the garden, their parents are astonished. But when one of the great novelists of the time, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, becomes convinced of the photographs’ authenticity, the girls become a national sensation, their discovery offering hope to those longing for something to believe in amid a world ravaged by war. Frances and Elsie will hide their secret for many decades. But Frances longs for the truth to be told.

One hundred years later… When Olivia Kavanagh finds an old manuscript in her late grandfather’s bookshop she becomes fascinated by the story it tells of two young girls who mystified the world. But it is the discovery of an old photograph that leads her to realize how the fairy girls’ lives intertwine with hers, connecting past to present, and blurring her understanding of what is real and what is imagined. As she begins to understand why a nation once believed in fairies, can Olivia find a way to believe in herself?

And there you have it. Two timelines interweaving throughout the story with the major protagonists being young, dreamy Frances, displaced and pining for her father during the long war years. And dreamy, older Olivia, also somehow displaced from her own life after devastating news leaves her questioning everything and everyone in her life so far – and find it wanting.

The real challenge of writing such a book is to adequately balance both story strands so the reader isn’t rushing through one to get back to the other. And in this case, Gaynor has succeeded beautifully. At no stage did I find myself skim-reading through any section to get to another – despite skimming being one of my vices as a reader. So it is a tribute to the quality of Gaynor’s characterisation that both the lonely little girl and isolated twenty-something equally held me.

The other temptation in a story of this nature – particularly this specific story, given the scads that has already been written and said about it – is to either sensationalise or sentimentalise what occurred. Again, I admire Gaynor’s restraint – she could have revelled in the fuss and fame those photographs generated and allowed that to power the narrative. However, she also resisted that temptation, too. So what we have is a beautifully told tale of two hurt, sensitive people seeking refuge in something else outside their daily round. One of the joys of this book is that Gaynor’s writing has a lyrical quality that makes her descriptions of that small brook where Frances played alongside her fairies sing off the page. While her descriptions of the old, second-hand bookshop is equally vivid, so that I not only visualised the shop, I could smell the books, too.

When two narrative timelines run alongside each other, the other imperative is that the ending has to connect them to the readers’ satisfaction – and once again, Gaynor triumphantly succeeds in doing this. It isn’t a fantasy or paranormal tale, or a historical adventure – neither is it a contemporary romance, but it manages to interleave all these aspects into a wonderful, unusual story and is recommended for anyone who enjoys any of the above.

Sunday Post – 31st December 2017


This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

I didn’t post last week as I simply didn’t get the time to write the post, with my son staying over and my sister also visiting overnight.

Christmas Day was lovely, if quiet, with Himself, my son and my sister joining us in a vegetarian meal of chestnut en croute with all the seasonal trimmings (except the sausagemeat stuffing, of course!). After a scrumptious meal, we opened up our presents and then spent the evening playing Game of Thrones monopoly… never mind about Winter coming – we were vanquished by Rob who ended up bankrupting the lot of us.

We had Boxing Day to slump and generally relax, before J returned to work and the following day, Rob made the journey back to Cambridge. As he is travelling to the States in January, I’m not sure when I’ll see him next, so I was sad to see him go. He always manages to fill the house with life and laughter… In contrast, my poor daughter and her family spent Christmas coping with the norovirus, so had to cancel their visitors – she was due to be cooking for 12 on Christmas Day – and declare their house off-limits. I’m hoping to catch up with the grandchildren tomorrow now that they have recovered.

On Friday, my writing buddy Mhairi came over for the day and we spent the time reflecting on our 2017 Shoot for the Moon goals, discussing our successes and failures, before setting the crazily ambitious targets for our 2018 Shoot for the Moon Challenge. Today I’m going to be busy organising our meal when we’ll be joined by the grandchildren who will spend New Year’s Eve with us, which is a lovely treat as I haven’t seen them since the first week in December.

This week I have read:

Shadow Weaver – Book 1 of the Shadow Weaver series by MarcyKate Connolly
Emmeline has grown up with a gift. Since the time she was a baby she has been able to control shadows. And her only friend and companion is her own shadow, Dar.

This was a dark-edged, surprisingly gritty read that I really enjoyed. Emmeline is a fascinating protagonist who spends her time listening to conversations she isn’t supposed to hear and playing tricks on the servants, who are afraid of her. But when everything changes, she is forced to go on the run where she meets people who seem to genuinely like her – and suddenly the things she used to do don’t seem so appropriate.


Alien Love Story by A.K. Dawson
Life is a headache for 15-year-old Dan. This isn’t some kind of metaphor. Dan suffers from migraines that make just about everything he does unbearable. Added to that he’s lost almost everyone he cares about. So he feels lonelier than the last puppy in a pet shop. But one day he sees a mysterious girl digging in the rubbish bins behind his house. Just by being near her, he finds that all his pain goes away. So he wants to see her again, of course. And get to know her. But she’s a bit strange. And her big eyes make her look, well, like an alien. Does she really exist? Or is she just a figment of an overactive, under-loved imagination?

This one started really strongly, but I was a bit taken aback at the sexual content in a book I thought initially was aimed at the tween/young teen market. There were some enjoyable scenes and I found Dan mostly likeable, though the relentless non-stop pace and Dan’s rather manic efforts to get closer to this girl had me wondering whether it was supposed to be a farce or a romance.


Killbox – Book 4 of the Sirantha Jax series by Ann Aguirre
Sirantha Jax is a “Jumper,” a woman who possesses the unique genetic makeup needed to navigate faster than light ships through grimspace. With no tolerance for political diplomacy, she quits her ambassador post so she can get back to saving the universe the way she does best—by mouthing off and kicking butt.

It’s been far too long since I read the third book in this entertaining space opera series, so I was delighted to be able to tuck into this next slice of the adventure. Sirantha Jax is every bit as enjoyable as I recalled, while facing some daunting odds – I won’t be leaving it so long before tracking down the next book, Aftermath.


My posts last week:

Christmas Quiz 2017

Teaser Tuesday featuring Killbox – Book 4 of the Sirantha Jax series by Ann Aguirre
The Daily Waffle features an extract from Dying for Space where Elizabeth is out of her comfort zone…

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring WaR: Wizards and Robots by Will.i.am and Brian David Johnson
A Bohemian Mind At Work features Dying for Space

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Frequency of Aliens – Book 2 of the Sorrow Falls series by Gene Doucette
Just Books features an extract from Dying for Space as well as an article by yours truly about a very awkward conversation I had that led to my changing the setting of the Sunblinded trilogy just days before I released Running Out of Space
Hywela Lyn features another excerpt from Dying for Space in which Elizabeth is on the wrong side of Sarge. Again…
Comfy Chair Books has posted another slice of Dying for Space in which Elizabeth is finding it difficult to cope at one of her father’s fancy banquets – who can she trust? In addition, there is an article about how I used food and dining as part of the worldbuilding in this book.

Friday Face-off – If music be the food of love, play on – featuring The Future Falls – Book 3 of the Enchantment Emporium series by Tanya Huff
La libreria di Beppe is featuring Dying for Space as part of the blog tour

Review of Year One – Book 1 of the Chronicles of The One by Nora Roberts
The HufflepuffNerdette features an excerpt from Dying for Space, in addition to an article by me, listing my top ten favourite space heroines


Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:

Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: Philippe Curval’s 1950s Photo Collages, Part 1
https://sciencefictionruminations.com/2017/12/27/adventures-in-science-fiction-cover-art-philippe-curvals-1950s-photo-collages-part-i/ These are extraordinary and beautiful – do swing by and take a look…

This #NewYear Visit Old #Fiction To Renew Your #WritingLife https://jeanleesworld.com/2017/12/28/this-newyear-visit-old-fiction-to-renew-your-writing-life/ Jean always tells it like it is – and this is an insight into how she rediscovered a piece of work, sent it off and… read it. It’s worth it.

The Secret of Great Memoir: The Mature Self https://www.janefriedman.com/memoir-mature-self/ This excellent article gives some solid tips on how to convey deep emotion without getting caught up in the spray and flotsam

10 of the Best Poems about Walking https://interestingliterature.com/2017/12/27/10-of-the-best-poems-about-walking/ As we brave the stormy weather for a breath of fresh air during this seasonal holiday, here are some offerings from some poets on this most fundamental form of exercise.

Christmas Alphabet: T for Tom Waits – Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis https://theimmortaljukebox.com/2017/12/15/christmas-alphabet-t-for-tom-waits-christmas-card-from-a-hooker-in-minneapolis/ Thom spins tales when he tells us factoids about some of his favourite songs, providing shafts of poetry in his writing as he conveys his love and passion for the music he features…

Thank you very much for taking the time and trouble to visit, like and comment on my site. May you have a peaceful, healthy and successful 2018. And if, sadly, those aren’t options for you, may you have the courage and strength to prevail. Happy New Year.

Friday Faceoff – Me and my shadow…


This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is the one we prefer. This week the theme is shadows, so I’ve chosen A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness.


This cover, produced by Walker Books in September 2011 is the one with the shadow. The dark figure striding across the newly ploughed field towards the house is certainly creepy – and initially I’d thought this was a horror book. But of course, it’s a lot more complicated than that. And the monster isn’t what you expect. I love this cover, but I do think it gives the wrong impression about the book.


This offering was produced by Candlewick in August 2016 and is one of the movie tie-in covers. That said, it is both beautiful and moving – I just wish they hadn’t seen fit to smother so much of it with details of the wretched film. I love the colours and the fingertips showing at the top of the cover as the boy sleeps.


This cover from Walker Books was published in May 2015. It’s okay, I suppose. But I find it rather generic with the tree branches and the moon shining through them. I’m not quite sure exactly why, except that the monster tends to visit Connor at night.


Produced in August 2011, this German edition by CBJ is haunting with the silhouette of the boy standing in front of the gravestones at the foot of the tree. The detail is beautiful – clever use of the foliage that looks like the profile of the monster. I really like this one – it’s my favourite. It’s beautiful and eye-catching, while still being relevant to the content.


This edition, published in October 2016 by Walker Books is another movie tie-in. Despite the sharpness of the illustration and beautiful colour of the sky, I think it is a poor imitation of the previous, more atmospheric German cover. And again, there is far too much chatter about the film plastered across it. Which one of these do you prefer?



AAAND… today the blog tour for Running Out of Space is being hosted by Crazy Beautiful Books.

Friday Faceoff – Then let the crabs be cursed by Odin…


This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is the one we prefer. This week the theme is Vikings, so I’ve chosen How to Speak Dragonese – Book 3 of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell.


This cover, produced by Hachette UK in 2010, is the main template for the other covers. It is illustrated by Cowell herself, in the guise of Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III, who is her chief protagonist and heir to the Hooligan tribe. He grows up to be the greatest of all Viking chieftains, and this is part of the ongoing story of how he survives to adulthood – a mighty achievement in itself. I very much like this cover. It is eye-catching and humorous, while promising a big dollop of exciting adventures in the book. This is my favourite.


This offering was produced by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers in February 2010. It has a slightly slicker feel, having replaced the page in Hiccup’s journal with a purple background, but still features Hiccup and Toothless drawn by Cowell – and still clearly in yet another scrape. Once more it ticks the boxes for me.


This cover from Scholastic published in December 2009 features Toothless sitting in Hiccup’s helmet. Once more the illustration is recognisably Cowell’s and you get the sense that Toothless is sniggering about something. Another attractive cover that effectively gives a sense of the book’s content.


Produced in September 2008, this Spanish edition by Ediciones Sm still features the original illustration, but has changed the background. It’s pleasant enough, but I far prefer the blotchy, scruffy effect of the original, which is specifically aimed at reluctant boy readers, who are far more likely to be attracted by the odd ink blot and jagged page.


This Kindle edition, published in June 2017 by Hodder Children’s Books gives the first cover a very, very close run for its money as my favourite. While the original image has Hiccup and Toothless arguing, with Hiccup clearly losing, there isn’t a whole lot going on. However this cover features on of the most dramatic events in the book ripping a tear in the binding as a huge dragon hunts down his prey…

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The List by Patricia Forde


Being something of a word nerd, I liked the sound of this one, so requested it from Netgalley and was delighted when my request was accepted.

In the city of Ark, speech is constrained to five hundred sanctioned words. Speak outside the approved lexicon and face banishment. The exceptions are the Wordsmith and his apprentice Letta, the keepers and archivists of all language in their post-apocalyptic, neo-medieval world. But when events take a darker turn, Letta realises that her responsibilities extend to more than the words in this fragile community…

I’ve paraphrased the rather chatty blurb and my firm advice would be not to read it if you intend to get hold of the book – it gives far too much of the story arc away. I really liked Letta – she gets wrapped up in the words she records for when times get easier and takes great care to copy out The List for the children to learn. But as her job isolates her from most of the rest of the community, she has the opportunity to look and wonder about some of the older words – and make comparisons to their current existence. I also very much like the fact that she is short-fused with a quick temper and cannot abide to see suffering and injustice. Otherwise her actions simply don’t make sense.

In order to believe in this dystopian world, the reader has to go along with the premise that the founder of the Ark, John Noa, has decided that language and words were the cause of humanity’s downfall. He feels that if only humanity is limited to the most basic of communication, they will be nearer the state of animals. He thinks is a great idea – for animals do not harm the planet, or plot and deceive each other. Only mankind is capable of that – because of the lies he can spin with his words. Initially I wasn’t sure this was going to work, but overall I think that Forde has built a convincing case for Noa’s beliefs. Like many charismatic leaders, Noa becomes caught up in his own rhetoric and needs to continue to push the community to make ever more extreme changes as everyone falls short of his grandiose schemes to return humanity to a pristine state.

Forde effectively raises the stakes and it doesn’t take much for this fragile, brutalised community to be tipped into unrest, as events drive Letta ever forward with some plot twists along the way. The climax of the story works very well, though for the more experienced reader, there aren’t a lot of major surprises as the overall story arc follows a well-trodden path. That said, this is aimed at children who haven’t necessarily read much in this genre and it raises some interesting issues regarding the role of language in the development and organisation of human society. If you enjoy dystopian, post-apocalyptic worlds, then this one is worth tracking down.

While I obtained the arc of The List from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.

Review of KINDLE Ebook A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness


I haven’t seen the film, but a number of my book blogging buddies have recommended this one, so I bought it. Would I enjoy reading it?

The monster showed up after midnight. As they do. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming… This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor. It wants the truth.

Oh yes, this book gripped me from the first page and wouldn’t let me go until the final page and I was weeping by the end. For starters, the writing is beautiful. The prose is perfectly judged between lyrically balanced descriptions, pin-sharp characterisation and a very good grasp of just how children behave when confronted with extreme stress over a long period of time. As an ex-primary school teacher, I thought the depiction of both Conor’s reaction and some of his classmates was realistic and apt.

The monster’s appearance is marvellous and I loved the interaction between Conor and his monster – and the stories he tells. For starters, Conor wasn’t the only one confounded at the stories the monster tells – and his reactions to the outcome. Having heard one or three folk/fairy tales in my time, I had a sense that I knew where the first story was going – and was completely wrong-footed by the monster’s judgement at the conclusion. Meanwhile, Conor’s mother is still struggling with a latest treatment – and he then has to contend with his grandma. She isn’t the cuddly, white-haired lady so popular in modern imagination – she wears tailored suits, is hopeless at cooking and works full-time. She also is clearly adrift when dealing with Conor as she hasn’t spent much time with him. I enjoyed the fact that as the story is told from Conor’s viewpoint, any adult reading the story will appreciate that she is under enormous stress, but most children – and certainly Conor – will probably miss the signs. Until a disastrous visit by the monster…

So do I have any quibbles? Well, given the mention of mobiles and other contemporary details, I don’t think this story is set in the past – and so my problem with this tale is that most schools these days would be far better equipped to deal with Conor’s situation. Nowadays there would be trained help available for teaching staff and all adults dealing with Conor and it’s highly likely the school would have a specific policy to deal with children undergoing a major family trauma – it happens more often than you might think. Conor would have some sort of counselling, probably be put in touch with other children coping with similar situations and have some time out of the classroom. He would also be asked how he would like to be treated. However, that isn’t a dealbreaker – there is so much about this story that blew me away and I very much recommend this one.