Review: Tangleweed & Brine by Deirdre Sullivan, illustrated by Karen Vaughan

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Tangleweed and Brine

Deirdre Sullivan, illustrated by Karen Vaughan

Little Island Books (2017)

YA/Crossover

Old stories new, you’ll venture where you will

Tangleweed and Brine is a collection of 13 witchy fairytale retellings.  The book is divided in two, each element of the title being one half. The Tangleweed stories are earthier and filled with ash, while the Brine tales are infused with water. The elemental nature of the stories reflects the way that fairy tales connect to the very core of our being. This collection is no exception, filled as it is with darkness and light, pain and pleasure, fear and longing. Dark, beguiling and feminist, these are haunting tales that will linger in the reader’s memory, stories that reward multiple readings. Sullivan focuses on the female experience in her tales – she allows the reader enter deeply into the minds of her characters, and does not deny the darker elements of these tales.

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Ash Pale illustration by Karen Vaughan

This is illustrator Karen Vaughan’s first book, and she is definitely one to watch. Her intricate pen-and-ink illustrations catch the tone of the tales perfectly, and add an extra layer of richness to the book. Her work shows the influence of Harry Clarke and Aubrey Beardsley, in a way which ties the collection into the long tradition of illustrated fairytale books, yet she has a style of her own. I particularly like how her illustrations, like the tales themselves, make room for other types of bodies in the fairy tales. This book is not filled with dainty perfect princesses, but with women who would be considered too tall, too fat, too small or altogether too much for such tales.

She wasn’t soft threads woven into silk, but thick rough cables pulsing like muscles on the chests of fishermen. Functional.

There is a strong focus on bodily experience, on being a woman. On the body as functional and a source of power, on the body as a trap.

You like your arms that make things, grow things, mend.

Beauty and a womb. That’s all you are.

There are no quick fixes, fairy godmothers or happily-ever-afters in these stories. The endings are often ambiguous and unsettling. The heroines must rely on their own courage and resources. Some tales will resonate with readers, some will empower them, some will linger on long after reading.

With its poetic and beguiling prose, it is easy to become tangled up in Tangleweed and Brine. This is a book to savour and to treasure, beautifully written, illustrated and designed.

 

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Top Ten Tuesday: Best Reads of 2017 (so far)

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature run by the lovely ladies of The Broke and the Bookish in which bloggers compile literary lists. This week’s theme is our top reads of 2017 thus far.

Conversations with Friends – Sally Rooney

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Sally Rooney’s debut fully deserves all the praise it has been receiving. As in her excellent short stories – memorable characters, sharp observations and emotional complexity.

My Name is Lucy Barton – Elizabeth Strout

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I was late coming to this book, but have been enthusiastically recommending it to customers since reading it a couple of months ago. It is a quiet kind of a book, as much about what isn’t said as what is. I had the privilege of meeting Elizabeth Strout at the International Literature Festival Dublin where she was interviewed by Sinéad Gleeson.

The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas

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A book that fully lived up to the hype, Thomas’ debut has a strong voice and brings the Black Lives Matter movement vividly and emotionally to life for her readers without ever seeming preachy or like an issue book. I cannot wait to read her next book. Full review.

The Three Daughters of Eve – Elif Shafak

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An atmospheric book set between Istanbul and Oxford exploring the complexities of faith and God, and the grip the past can have on us. While I was a bit disappointed in the ending, the rest of the book was brilliant and thought provoking enough for it still to be one of my favourite books of the year.

Once and for All – Sarah Dessen

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I always love Sarah Dessen’s books, and this has been one of my favourites. Heartfelt, emotional and entertaining, this is a perfect summer read about wedding planning and love both lost and found.

A Line Made By Walking – Sara Baume

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A powerful book about art, nature and being human by a brilliant new Irish writer. I think it was even better than her debut Spill Simmer Falter Wither. Full review.

Spellbook of the Lost and Found – Moira Fowley Doyle

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I was utterly enchanted by this book – I loved the diverse cast of characters, the lyrical writing, and the magical elements. Full review coming soon!

The Space Between – Meg Grehan

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Meg Grehan’s debut is a beautifully tender verse novel, a story of recovery and bravery as well as love. It melted my heart. Full review.

Sofia Khan is Not Obliged – Ayisha Malik

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My most recent read, and probably the funniest book I’ve read this year. Sofia Khan has been described as a Muslim Bridget Jones, and her voice is just as hilarious and distinctive. A truly entertaining read that also explores what it is like being a Muslim in British society.

The Wild Air – Rebecca Mascull

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The cover caught my eye, then the subject matter as Amelia Earhart is a hero of mine. This is a soaring novel about Della, a female pilot in the early days of aviation. I loved Della, and the book is rich in historical detail without leaving the reader overwhelmed with information. An emotional and engaging read.

Do post a link to your TTT below – I’m always looking for new reading recommendations!

Review: Girl Reading by Katie Ward

I am always excited to discover a book that combines my two passions – books and art – and Girl Reading does so exceedingly well. I have been getting into reading short stories more of late, and this is a wonderful collection.

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Katie Ward

Virago Press (2011, this edition 2012)

Short stories – historical and contemporary fiction

This is an intriguing book, it has seven chapters or stories each focusing on an image of a girl or woman reading. I have also seen it described as a novel, but while it does come together at the end, it reads more like a collection of short stories to me. There is a great range in place and time – from early Renaissance Sienna to Victorian England to a futuristic virtual world. Each story is a world of its own, and completely involving at that. I loved how the final story linked the others together, but I also feel each story/chapter was very strong on its own.

Ward creates memorable and compelling characters – the twins who had a childhood career as mediums in the Victorian story are particularly striking, as is her innocent young artist in the Bloomsbury group-esque gathering at Arnault House, and her disillusioned political assistant having a drink in a London bar in the recent past.

I was resilient when I was younger. Headstrong. No one could talk me out of anything or stop me doing something I wanted to do. Recently I have begun to have doubts. Recently I’ve realised that version of myself has gone away.

There is a range of art forms too, from an altarpiece to a sketch to a photo posted on Flickr. The descriptions of the processes of studio photography in Victorian England were very interesting, but doesn’t take away from the story. There is a note at the end of the book (and links on Ward’s website) relating to the artworks that inspired the various stories. However, they work with or without this reference point. Art is central to each narrative, but so is identity, the sitter’s appearance and their inner life.

This is a book I have been thinking about since I finished reading it. The short story is a real art, and Ward succeeded in creating characters who are nuanced and complex, and who seem to live beyond the short page count of their narratives. A book I would recommend to readers with an interest in art, or with an interested in varied and absorbing narratives about women throughout history.

 

Top Ten Tuesday – Top Ten Books I Recommend as a Bookseller

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature from the wonderful Broke and Bookish that combines the joys of books and lists. This week was a freebie, letting bloggers chose their own topic…

When not blogging, I work as a bookseller. Like all booksellers, I have my favourite books to recommend. I specialise in children’s/YA but there are a couple of books for adults here too!

Inkheart – Cornelia Funke

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I adore this book. I describe it as a book for book lovers, and I think readers young and old alike should read it. The idea of characters being read out of books is enchanting, and I love the book quotes at the beginnings of the chapters. It is pure magic.

The Goose Girl – Shannon Hale

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I love fairytales, and this retelling is gorgeous. It’s one I love to return to for its magical world and strong heroine. It is the first in the Books of Bayern series, all of which are great reads. But this is the best!

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler – E.L. Konigsburg

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This delightful children’s classic has been a successful staff pick of mine, and I’m delighted that this story is still being enjoyed by young readers as it is a hoot. It’s about a sister and brother who run away from home and take up residence in the Met Museum…

All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr

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Most people have probably read this book already, but it is so beautifully written that I don’t want anyone to miss out on the experience!

The Improbability of Love – Hannah Rothschild

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This is a book I think deserves more attention. It’s about a painting being rediscovered and the ripples this sends through the London art world. I was enthralled!

 

One – Sarah Crossan

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A beautiful verse novel about sisterhood, identity and love. I read it in one sitting, I cried and now I recommend it all the time. A very deserving winner of the Carnegie medal.

Knights of the Borrowed Dark – Dave Rudden

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I recommend this to the many, many Potter fans in the shop looking for a great new  fantasy read. I am delighted that it has been chosen as the Dublin Citywide Read for 2017 and can’t wait for the next book in the series.

Am I Normal Yet?  – Holly Bourne

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If ever there were a series I wish had been around when I was a teenager, it’s the Spinster Club. Great characters, strong voices, humour, feminism, friendship, mental health… Holly Bourne is one of the best voices in contemporary YA at the moment and I love her books.

The Ministry of Suits – Paul Gamble

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For kids looking for a slightly mad and very funny read, this is my new go-to. It’s rare that I will find myself properly laughing out loud at a book, but this did it. Gloriously zany.

The Knife of Never Letting Go – Patrick Ness

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Fantastic writer, fantastic concept. This gripping novel is one of my favourite YA recommendations. Really anything by Patrick Ness comes highly recommended from me though!

Leave a link to your TTT below, looking forward to seeing what everyone has come up with for Freebie week.

Review: How to be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis

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Samantha Ellis

Chatto & Windus (2015)

Samantha Ellis’ How to be a Heroine (wonderfully subtitled Or What I’ve Learned from Reading Too Much) is part memoir, part literary criticism. The journalist and playwright charts her relationship with heroines as she grew up, linking them to her own life and her family’s past. She discusses fairytales, classics and modern classics with characters ranging from The Little Mermaid to Elizabeth Bennett and Esther Greenwood. I was delighted to see the Fossil sisters, of Ballet Shoes, discussed. This was a favourite book of mine growing up. Pictured below is my rather tattered paperback copy, and a lovely special edition one of my sisters gave me as a birthday present.

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It is an emotional read, as Ellis revisits and reexamines her heroines. In the introduction she speaks about herself and her friend’s disagreement over which Bronte heroine was their favourite – Cathy or Jane. This leads Ellis to return to some of her beloved heroines and examine what drew her to them in the first place. In some cases, returning to these books as a feminist is problematic, something many readers have experienced. Ellis explores how we can reconcile these issues with our lingering love for these characters. I agreed with many of her readings, and shared her disappointment when Jo March’s literary ambitions were quashed.

‘Though I’m beginning to think all readings are provisional, and that maybe we read heroines for what we need from them at the time.’

In considering her life in light of her journey through books, Ellis shows how different characters have helped or inspired her. It is a wonderful demonstration of the power of reading and how heroines can help us be the heroine of our own story. (Ellis quotes Nora Ephron ‘Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.’) It is also a very inspiring book, as Ellis shows her own journey to becoming a writer, and her own struggle with the traditions of her faith. Many of Ellis’ heroines are also writers, and she examines what it is to be a woman and a writer, or a woman working in theatre. Ellis is honest and open about her life – about her heritage, her relationships, her seizures – and her writing is candid and readable.

How to be a Heroine shows the joy reading can bring, how characters can comfort us and give us strength. I thoroughly enjoyed the references to many books I have also loved, and several titles have been added to my reading list.  This book is one voracious readers will enjoy, and it is definitely one I will be lending and gifting to friends.

Review: Knights of the Borrowed Dark by Dave Rudden

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Cover image from Goodreads

 

Knights of the Borrowed Dark

Dave Rudden

PenguinRandomhouse, 2016

Fantasy/Adventure, 10+

Denizen Hardwick is an orphan with no information about his origins. He loves reading about heroes, but he certainly doesn’t want to be one. When he is whisked away from Crosscaper Orphanage to meet an aunt he didn’t know existed, Denizen finds himself deep in a shadowy and dangerous world, more terrifying that anything he has ever imagined. Denizen must decide whether he will join the Knights who fight against the Tenebrous, monsters that emerge from the darkness. The Knights wield great power, but this power comes at a terrible cost…

Looking back, it had been a mistake to fill the orphanage with books.

I was hooked from the very first line of this book. The narrative voice is wonderful – just a touch of wryness, and vivid descriptions of the settings. Knights of the Borrowed Dark is an exciting read with a magic and a mythology that has been cleverly and carefully crafted. The world Rudden has created is rich and compelling, with The Cost being a particularly  striking feature of the magic. The monsters are spine-crawlingly creepy. The Clockwork Three are  unique and memorable creations, each terrifying in their own way. Personally, I thought the woman in white was the scariest, and I defy any reader not to shudder when they read the section that begins:

The woman in white was eating light bulbs.

Denizen is a bookish hero that young readers will easily identify with. He is quite an anxious character, and is understandably reluctant to dive into this dangerous new world. He’d much rather read about it instead. Denizen is not a natural hero, and this makes his bravery all the more impressive. He choses to be courageous, to join in the fight against the darkness. He is also wonderfully snarky and has a whole collection of frowns.

The No.13 Questioning Frown was replaced by the No.8 – the I Am Missing Something Important Here, Which Is Unfair Because It Concerns Me.

There is a whole host of wonderful supporting characters. One of my favourites was Darcie, the seer of the group, but all the Knights had intriguing back stories and added to the tale. There is a lot of darkness and violence in this book, but ultimately Rudden shows how with courage, darkness can be overcome.

Rudden is a wonderful addition to the realm of children’s literature, and I know that fans of Rick Riordan, JK Rowling and Derek Landy will love Knights of the Borrowed Dark. This is a cracking fantasy adventure that readers young and old will enjoy.  I can’t wait for the sequel.

17 Great New(ish) Irish Books for St Patrick’s Day

Happy St Patrick’s Day/Lá Fheile Pádraig! Seeing as it is the 17th of March, here is a parade of 17 excellent books by Irish authors or illustrators published in the last year. The list is mainly children’s/YA, and this is only a sample of the wonderful books being produced by Irish writers, illustrators and publishers.

Once upon a Place edited by Eoin Colfer, illustrated by PJ Lynch

A collection of poems and stories by Irish writers, all on the theme of place. With a mix of magical, spooky and moving tales this is the perfect introduction to Irish children’s literature, and PJ Lynch’s charcoal illustrations are stunning.

Needlework by Deirdre Sullivan

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Cover image from Goodreads

A powerful story about survival, lyrically written. Sullivan tackles difficult material head on and creates a book that is painful yet poetic. Steve McCarthy’s cover illustration is just perfect for the book.

One by Sarah Crossan

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Cover image from Goodreads

Don’t just take my word for it, this moving verse novel about sisterhood was recently shortlisted for the Children’s Books Ireland Awards, the YA Book Prize AND the Carnegie Medal.

Knights of the Borrowed Dark by Dave Rudden

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Cover image from Goodreads

Exciting, witty and spooky this is a brilliant fantasy adventure that fans of Derek Landy, Rick Riordan and J.K. Rowling will love.

Name upon Name by Sheena Wilkinson

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A well-researched read that offers a different perspective on the 1916 Rising, and is also a very enjoyable read. The cover design is perfect – not only does it evoke the time, but it shows how Helen is caught between two different identities, two different struggles.

Making It Up As I Go Along by Marian Keyes

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Cover image from Goodreads

This blog mainly covers children’s and YA books, but I enjoyed Marian Keyes’ latest collection of essays and articles so much that I couldn’t not include it. Warm, funny and entertaining, it’s a great read.

 

Asking For It by Louise O’Neill

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Cover image from Goodreads

Winner of an Irish Book Award and recently shortlisted for the Children’s Books Ireland awards and the YA Book Prize, this book has been starting vital conversations about rape culture and consent. It is a very difficult read, but also a very important one.

The Boy Who Fell Off the Mayflower by PJ Lynch

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Cover image from Goodreads

I have been a fan of PJ Lynch’s illustrations for years, and this is the first book he has written as well as illustrated. The artwork is extraordinary and shows his talent for capturing emotions and panoramic landscapes.

The Wordsmith by Patricia Forde

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Cover image from Little Island

This dystopian novel is set in a future in which arts and culture are outlawed and language is restricted. The world building is brilliant, and it is particularly relevant when thinking about the Irish language. Also, it has a beautiful cover designed by Steve Simpson.

A Hollow in the Hills by Ruth Frances Long

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Cover image from Goodreads

The sequel to A Crack in Everything, this is a cracking urban fantasy read set in Dublin. There are some brilliant strong female characters, and the plot is absolutely gripping. I love how Long makes familiar monuments magical, and I cannot wait for book 3 in the trilogy.

 

Dublin Fairytale by Nicola Colton

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I loved this version of Little Red Riding Hood set in Dublin, particularly the spread featuring Trinity College of Sorcery! I love Colton’s style of illustration, and all the funny details included in the background of the images.

 

The Book of Learning by ER Murray

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Cover image from Goodreads

The first in the Nine Lives trilogy, this is a great fantasy adventure set between Dublin and West Cork. It was the Dublin Citywide Read this year.

The Butterfly Shell by Maureen White

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A quiet and understated read about a young girl coping with the transition to secondary school and the lingering memory of a lost sister. Very beautifully written.

Still Falling by Sheena Wilkinson

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Cover image from Little Island

I am a big fan of Sheena Wilkinson’s work and I thought this was a very powerful read about love, self-worth and dealing with your past.

Demon Road by Derek Landy

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A supernatural roadtrip packed with vampires and demons, this is an exciting read that fans of Landy’s Skulduggery series will enjoy.

I’m a Girl! by Yasmeen Ismail

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Cover image from Goodreads

A fun picturebook about being yourself with bright and exuberant illustration. A great new talent in the vibrant world of Irish picturebooks!

Irelandopedia by John and Fatti Burke

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Cover image from Goodreads

A beautifully illustrated book featuring a double-page spread about each county in Ireland. Great for anyone aged 6+ who wants more fun facts about our Emerald Isle!

Happy St Patrick’s Day, and happy reading!

Review: The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman

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The Dark Days Club

Alison Goodman

Walker Books, January 2016

YA – Historical/Paranormal

Lady Helen Wrexhall is preparing for her presentation before Queen Charlotte, hoping to overcome the taint her mother’s treachery has left on her reputation. Her aunt has fastidiously trained her for this moment, but nothing could have prepared Helen for her encounter with Lord Carlston and the dark world he opens her eyes to. Regency London seemed like a treacherous place already, without adding demons into the mix…
This is a compelling read, combining a richly detailed Regency London setting with a shadowy world of demons and violence. It could be described as a cross between Jane Austen and Cassandra Clare. Alison Goodman gives a fascinating insight into early nineteenth century London, telling readers of the customs of court and domestic life, and giving evocative descriptions of the costumes and balls. Helen is a compelling protagonist, a witty and intelligent young woman who is out of keeping with the stifled customs of her society and the restrictions it places upon women. While Lord Carlston did not quite have me swooning, he is an intriguing and mysterious character. There are also a number of strong supporting characters, I particularly liked Helen’s maid Darby. This book is the first in a trilogy, and there was a lot of set up with Lady Helen’s newfound powers, her parents’ past and the history of The Dark Days Club. However, I think this series has a lot of potential, and I look forward to reading the next instalment of Lady Helen’s adventures.

Review: Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

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Cover image from Goodreads

Carry On

Rainbow Rowell

Macmillan, 2015

YA, Fantasy

Simon Snow may be the worst chosen one who has ever been chosen. Yes, his magic is incredibly powerful, but it is also totally out of his control.

Simon is entering his eighth and final year in the Watford School of Magick. Not only does he have his studies to worry about, but the threat presented by his arch enemy The Insidious Humdrum is greater than ever, his relationship with his girlfriend Agatha is on the rocks, and his roommate Baz (who he suspects is a vampire) is gone AWOL. What’s a mage to do?

I loved Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, so I was delighted to hear that she would be releasing a book about Simon Snow. In Fangirl, the protagonist Cath writes very popular fanfiction about Simon and Baz. While I would highly recommend reading Fangirl (it was one of my favourite books of 2014) it is not necessary to have read it before Carry On.

It took me a while to get into Carry On at first, perhaps because of the multiple narrators. However, once I settled into it I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and I felt the multiple POVs gave insights into supporting characters that we don’t often get in fantasy novels like this. Carry On is a loving, tongue-in-cheek parody of popular fantasy tropes, and there are noticeable parallels with Harry Potter. Baz was a fantastic character, and Rowell really shows how conflicted he is with his identity as a mage and a vampire, and with his attraction to Simon. What I loved most of all about Carry On is how clever it is. The magic is all based on words, with the mages using popular sayings, lyrics, nursery rhymes etc. to cast spells. It is a lot of fun to read, and I imagine Rowell had a lot of fun writing it.

I would highly recommend both Fangirl and Carry On for Potterheads, and I know that fans of Rainbow Rowell will enjoy the same strong dialogue and heart-warming romance that is found in her contemporary YA and adult novels.

Christmassy Children’s and YA Reads

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski and PJ Lynch

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This moving tale of a curmudgeonly woodcarver whose heart is melted by a young boy is a Christmas classic, and a special 20th anniversary edition has just been released. It is a tale all about the true spirit of Christmas, and PJ Lynch’s stunning illustrations for this book bring the warmth and emotion of the tale to life. This was one of two books for which Lynch was awarded the Kate Greenaway Medal Winner, presented annually by the UK Library Association ‘for an outstanding book in terms of illustration for children and young people.’
The Nutcracker illustrated  by Niroot Puttapipat
This classic Christmas tale has been released in a stunning new edition, with striking silhouette illustrations and a pop up finale. Puttapipat’s illustrations are fantastic, making the story even more magical. Enchanting!
The Snow Beast by Chris Judge
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Chris Judge’s beloved Beast (The Lonely Beast) returns in this action-packed caper which will delight young readers.
Pugs of the Frozen North by Philip Reeve & Sarah McIntyre
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A fun-filled adventure story from the dynamic duo of Reeve and McIntyre. The illustrations and text work together wonderfully, and this book will entertain boys and girls.
Beyond The Stars edited by Sarah Webb
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A wintery collection of tales written and illustrated by some of Ireland’s finest, with proceeds going to Fighting Words, a fantastic resource for young writers. I particularly enjoyed Siobhán Parkinson and Eoin Colfer’s stories, and the illustrations by PJ Lynch and Niamh Sharkey.
Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn
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A YA Christmas romance that will appeal to fans of John Green. Bookish types will love the setting of The Strand and all the literary allusions. Levithan wrote Dash and Cohn Lily, and their distinctive voices narrate alternating chapters. Highly recommended.
My True Love Gave To Me edited by Stephanie Perkins
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A collection of short stories, all Christmassy YA romances. With big names like Rainbow Rowell, David Levithan, Jenny Han and Gayle Forman involved this is a real treat for YA fans. I didn’t love all the stories, my favourite was Rainbow Rowell but I also really enjoyed Steohanie Perkins, Gayle Forman and Kiersten White’s stories. A lovely book to curl up with with a nice cup of tea and plenty of chocolate.