Review: Notes on my Family by Emily Critchley

I was sent a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for a review, this has not swayed my opinions or reviewing in any way!

Emily Critchley - Notes On My Family

Notes on my Family 

Emily Critchley

Everything with Words, 2017

Contemporary, 12+

Louise Coulson is 13 and a half years old, and she very much likes being left to her own devices. She has a particular set of rules about how she likes things to be, and how she orders her life. And with her family in crisis, her world seems to have been turned upside down. Her father is having an affair, which means her parents will be divorcing. Her mother is having a breakdown, her brother is comfort baking, and her older sister has started dating a fireman. Lou’s life at school is disrupted too when she is told to be new girl Faith’s ‘buddy’. Lou and Faith are completely different, but form an unlikely friendship.

Lou’s observations on her life and the people around her are insightful and intriguing. Critchley has created a very likeable protagonist, and one whose many idiosyncrasies and quirks make her who she is. Readers who struggle with anxiety or are not neuro-typical will find a lot to connect with in this character. The other characters are interesting and multifaceted, and it is a very engaging read that handles tough topics in a sensitive manner. If you’re looking for a well-written teen or YA book that deals with difficult family situations or with not fitting into the world around you, I would definitely recommend this.

 

Review: Love Song by Sophia Bennett

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Love Song

Sophia Bennett

Chicken House, April 2016

12+, Contemporary

The Point are the hottest band around, and their catchy songs and moving ballads are number one hits. Nina accompanies her sister Ariel (one of the band’s superfans, known as ‘Pointer Sisters’) to a meet and greet. Through a bizarre twist of fate, Nina winds up with a job as personal assistant to the lead singer’s fiancée. On tour with the band, Nina sees their more human side, what lies behind the glamour, and most of all, how the boys’ friendship is falling apart.

I loved Sophia Bennett’s The Look and was delighted to get the chance to review this book. As in You Don’t Know Me, she brings the reader behind the scenes of the music world. Nina is a likeable protagonist, and it is interesting to see how she grows throughout the book. Her relationships with the different band members are nuanced and interesting. I enjoyed how Bennett shows us the different layers each character has. One of my favourite things about this book was Heatherwick Hall. This crumbling old manor is full of character, and made a brilliant setting for the latter part of the book. Equally, the chapter when Nina goes to The Point concert was very atmospheric. I also loved the inclusion of the song lyrics throughout, it added an interesting element to the book and I’d love to hear the songs!

The Look is still my favourite of Sophia Bennett book, I thought the relationship between the sisters was very moving and realistic, but this was definitely an enjoyable read. Fans of Girl Online by Zoe Sugg would enjoy Love Song, The Look or You Don’t Know Me.

Originally reviewed for LoveReading4Kids.

 

Review: The Butterfly Shell by Maureen White

Thanks to O’Brien Press for sending me a copy of The Butterfly Shell to review. The book will be launched in The Gutter Bookshop on August 26th at 6.30pm.

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Cover image from Goodreads

The Butterfly Shell

Maureen White

O’Brien Press, 2015

12+. Contemporary

Marie is going into her first year of secondary school, and is finding it hard to settle in. She is being targeted by a group of girls who call themselves the Super Six. The Super Six, and their leader Rachel in particular, torment Marie and make school a nightmare for her. Stella is a potential friend, but she is very odd and Marie doesn’t quite know what to make of her. At home, things are also difficult. Marie is haunted by the memory of a sister who died before she was born. Her mum never got over the loss of her first baby, and Marie has started to hear her sister crying at night.  Marie is totally miserable, and has begun to self-harm.

Maureen White explores bullying, loss and self-harm in a way that is honest and sensitive. Her depiction of how the Super Six torment Marie in school is very realistic. She shows how harmful their actions are, but also how devious they are in coming up with new ways to get to Marie. Marie is a very believable character, with a convincing voice. Her openness and honesty allow us get into her head and reading the book can be upsetting because of this. I also really liked Stella, a quirky character I would like to have see more of. I think the ghostly element was handled very well, and that it sat well with the rest of the novel.I felt the book could have been longer, the end came very quickly and I think the conclusion could have been expanded upon. However, Maureen White deserves much praise for her sensitive handling of the topics in this book, and I am always glad to see a new talent in Irish children’s fiction.

The Butterfly Shell is a quiet and honest read, which I think young teens will really enjoy.

Review: Seeds of Liberty by Claire Hennessy

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Seeds of Liberty – Three Battles for Independence

Claire Hennessy

Poolbeg, 2014

Historical Fiction, 10+ 

It is the eighteenth century, and revolutionary ideas are spreading – The Boston Tea Party in 1773, the French storming the Bastille in 1789 and the Irish Rebellion of 1798. Seeds of Liberty is divided into three parts, each told from the point of view of a young character caught up in revolutionary events in Boston, Paris and Wexford respectively. Each story is told in a diary format, allowing the reader see through the protagonists eyes as they witness, and take part in, historic events and grapple with ideas of revolution, liberty and nationhood.

While this book has a lot of information about life in the eighteenth century, it also tells three very memorable and engaging stories.The protagonists ( Jack, Catherine and Robert) are likeable and strong, and their curiosity about the turbulent times in which they live makes this historical period very accessible for readers. Their accounts capture the excitement and danger of the changes happening around them, while often being very moving. This is an educational and enjoyable read, one that makes history vivid for the reader. Derry Dillon’s illustration for the cover is bright and eye-catching, and highlights the dramatic events in the book. Highly recommended for history buffs aged 10+.

Claire Hennessy is an Irish author who has written many contemporary YA novels (Stereotype is one of my favourites). Seeds of Liberty is her first foray into historical fiction. She is also the new childrens editor for Penguin Ireland. Check out her website here.

Review: Scarlett Fever – Maureen Johnson

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Scarlett Fever

Maureen Johnson

Hot Key Books (2014)

YA

I really enjoyed Suite Scarlett, the first book in this series, so I had a feeling I would enjoy Scarlett Fever too. And I did, right from the dedication:

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How could I not love a book dedicated to ABBA? 😛

From dreamies.de

The Martin family are back! Scarlett Fever features more entertaining adventures as Scarlett tries to deal with heartbreak, family drama and the ever-demanding Mrs Ambersen. Spencer is struggling to start an acting career, Lola is stuck working in the hotel, and Marlene is being disconcertingly friendly. Scarlett is still pining over Eric, and it doesn’t help that all her friends seem to have had exciting summers abroad. With Mrs Ambersen’s new acting agency Scarlett is kept as busy as ever, especially with their latest client – a new Broadway star.

The familiar wacky cast of characters from Suite Scarlett were joined by some memorable new characters in this enjoyable sequel. My favourite of the new characters was Max, the surly brother of Amy Ambersen’s new protogée. He was an interesting character with plenty of depth and I liked how his character was explored as the book progressed. Scarlett is a great protagonist – she is a funny and likeable character, but she also has her flaws. She is relatable, and makes the book believable despite all the chaos that sometimes ensues! Again Spencer brought a lot of humour, but also a lot of emotion as readers see the strain he is under trying to begin an acting career. The setting of the book – both the crumbling hotel and New York City – adds to the appeal and makes for an entertaining read.

As in Suite Scarlett I enjoyed the mix of humour, drama and strong characters. Well worth a read!

I definitely want to check out more of Maureen Johnson’s books, I loved these two books and her story in Let It Snow.

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Originally reviewed for LoveReading4Kids

Review: Suite Scarlett – Maureen Johnson

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Suite Scarlett

Maureen Johnson

Hot Key Books (2013)

YA

Living in an Art Deco hotel in New York sounds like a dream – but not if you’re broke. Scarlett finds out on her fifteenth birthday just how bad things have gotten in the shabby hotel she calls home. Her younger sister Marlene can’t stand her, and her older brother and sister are working non-stop to help the family. It all seems hopeless, until an eccentric new guest checks in, and changes Scarlett’s life.

This book wasn’t quite what I was expecting, but I really enjoyed it. The setting is fantastic, and I loved the snippets of history about the hotel’s past. This really added to the atmosphere of The Hopewell, a fascinating place with plenty of character. Part of the plot revolves around a play, and this is echoed in the structuring of the book into acts. The production of Hamlet is fantastic, in terms of how the play is eventually staged, and the many obstacles it faces to reach this point.

The characters are very memorable, particularly Scarlett’s brother Spencer, whose stunts provide a lot of comedy. I enjoyed the Martin family, not just because of the very distinctive personalities of the siblings, but also because of the believable family dynamics. This was quite a contrast from the dramatic Mrs Amberson, whose character is a bit over the top, but she adds to the fun and chaos of the book.

The romance plot was also handled well, and I liked that it didn’t completely take over the book. It does form a significant part of the story, and is something Scarlett obsesses about, but we also get to see different sides of her character. There are plenty of plots at work in this story – the play, the stories of the different siblings, Scarlett’s struggles to deal with Mrs Amberson – which make for an interesting and varied read.

This is a well-written New York adventure with plenty of drama, emotion and humour. I was delighted to get the chance to read the sequel as well and I will be posting my review shortly.

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Originally reviewed for LoveReading4Kids. 

Author Interview: Deirdre Sullivan

Last month, I reviewed Deirdre Sullivan’s latest book Primperfect, the third and final book in the Primrose Leary trilogy. It was a book that made me laugh and cry, and I was delighted when Deirdre agreed to do an interview with me for the blog. Read on to find out about Deirdre Sullivan’s teenage diaries, some new definitions, the antics of her first guinea pig and more!

Deirdre Sullivan author pic

 Did you keep a diary as a teenager?
I did- from when I was thirteen till around twenty. I used to fill it full or poetry in different coloured ink. Purple was for woe. Pink for less woe. There was a lot of woe in my diary. Not in my life, though. That was pretty grand. I wrote a vampire screenplay in it as well, where this character, Dubh, who was basically an avatar for me, got recruited to be soul mates and assassins with a Cool Vampire. There were a lot of fight scenes and sketches of medieval-inspired crop tops. It was pretty aspirational. 
 
Prim grows up a lot throughout the trilogy, what was it like writing her at these different ages?
I think the older she got, the easier it was because I could turn off my filter a little and give her more awareness and experience. I enjoyed maturing her, like a fine cheese, and there was enough of a gap between the books that when I came back my voice was a little different as well. I wrote two books, between Prim Improper and Improper Order, and one book between Improper Order and Primperfect. They’re languishing on my computer now. But everything you write teaches you something. Improper Order has more dialogue than Prim Improper, because I was worried I was bad at writing dialogue. Primperfect has more scene setting for exactly the same reason. When I’m writing, I play to my strengths and the more you write, the stronger you become. Or something. 
 
You deal with some sensitive topics in the books, such as coming out and self harm, how do you deal with tailoring these for a younger audience?
I don’t really tailor to them at all. I assume that children can take it. A lot of them have to because they’re living it. I think the first person narrative helps as well, because you kind of see it through her eyes as you write it, and so her opinions and reactions aren’t always clever or sensitive. Which is kind of true to the world we live in. I don’t have a moral agenda when I write. I think that’s dangerous and also not as fun. 
 
There is a lot of humour in the books, which part was the most fun to write?
Every book has a little bit I’m extra fond of. It’s not necessarily the best bit, but the day I wrote it, I was probably extra smug. I like the balloon-popping bit in Improper Order, for example, and the rat funeral in Primperfect. In Prim Improper, it’s the list of things about her mother and the ghost story. I did like writing about Marcus also, particularly in his robot phase. I kind of dampened him down in Primperfect, because I didn’t want to make him always have an amusing trick. He’s a little person,  with his own stuff going on. 
I like writing the animal stuff a lot though too, because animals are amazing and ridiculous. 
 
Deirdre reading from Primperfect at the launch in Dublin. (Photo by Diarmuid O'Brien)

Deirdre Sullivan reading from Primperfect at the launch in Dublin. (Photo by Diarmuid O’Brien)

 
How did you manage the balance between humour and serious issues in the books?
The humour comes quite naturally to me, I use it as a coping mechanism when stuff goes wrong all the time. I think a lot of people do. And people who are sad, aren’t, like, steadily sad forever. there’s always a little bit of funny or happy to balance out.
 
Was how the series ended what you had envisioned when writing Prim Improper, or did things change as the books progressed?
Things absolutely changed as I was writing. I’d always have a couple of notes I wanted to hit. Like, a basic beginning, middle and end but I wouldn’t always hit them, like sometimes the characters would surprise me. I realised Karen was gay halfway through Improper Order, and that was a bit of a surprise, because she is very evil and terrible and I wasn’t sure she was entitled to be going through her own drama after all the nonsense she has pulled. With the third book, I wanted to give her a happy(ish) ending. If I was going to leave Prim, I wanted it to be in a good place. 
 
Would you think about returning to Prim’s story, or is Primperfect the last we will see of her?
I think Primperfect probably is the last Prim book. Although, if I got a very good idea for her journey and was excited to write it, I wouldn’t discount it. I do know a bit about what happens to her after Primperfect. The baby is a boy, and they call him Leary after her Mum. 
 
Is there a character in the Prim books who you would like to write more about?
I think Ciara’s family dynamic is really interesting. I think if I was to write a book where they were all grown up, it would be a big thick beach read about Ciara and her millinery empire. And Syzmon would be glowering in the wings, having become a footballer slash robber baron. He might even have purchased the CONTROLLING SHARE in her company. She’s hate that. She always said it was a mistake to go public. 
 
I love the design of the books – the illustrations and typography really give a diary feel. Is this something you had envisioned for the books?
The typography was the brain child of an amazing designer called Fidelma Slattery, and it made me so happy how thoroughly she understood the books and the characters. Like the little cast list in book three and the page that’s all cut up were her idea. Nothing to do with me, but so completely perfect and delightful. One of the great things about the Prim books was waiting and seeing what she had done with the text and it was always amazing. 
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Prim’s definitions are always entertaining – was there a particular one you liked best?
I had some written for Primperfect that I took out because it was a bit unrealistic that she’d still be at her first year homework thing. I can’t decide, so going to give you some new definitions if that’s okay. Quite fond of stimuli.
 
Keep: The strongest or central tower of a medieval castle. 
Where handsome Vikings like to hole up with their initially unwilling lady sex-hostages. 
 
Stimuli:Things that make things do things.
 
Were your guinea pigs, Theo and William, an inspiration for Roderick, Prim’s dashing rat friend?
It was my first guinea pig, Sisyphus (2006-2010) who was the inspiration for Roderick. He was quite dashing, and used to escape from his cage by standing on top of a tunnel and head butting the door until it opened. This is not typical guinea-pig behaviour at all. I actually have a picture one of my friends drew of him as a Victorian gentleman, wearing a top hat. I treasure it a lot. 
 
In Primperfect, Prim gets to read her mother’s diaries (at last!). How did you find bringing this new voice into the books?
In the first draft it was half and half and made the narrative messy, because the two books were kind of different genres, YA for Prim, more NA for Bláthnaid. I cut down Bláthnaid’s parts a lot and decided to make them chapter headings instead, that took some of the pressure off and it flowed more easily. 
 
What’s next for you, writing wise?
I’m working on a YA book that’s a bit darker than Prim at the moment. It has a bit of crime in it and things. So, I’m finishing that. I’ve also got a new book coming out with little Island in 2016. It’s one of the books I wrote between Prim Improper and Improper Order and it’s very different from them, but still about teenage girls coping with difficult circumstances. Because teenagers are magnificent and inspiring and have a lot to put up with. 
Photo by Diarmuid O'Brien

Photo by Diarmuid O’Brien

A big thank you to Deirdre Sullivan for her wonderful answers, I cannot wait to read more of her books! If you haven’t already, check out the Prim trilogy (Prim Improper, Improper Order and Primperfect) they are hilarious, moving and quirky, and definitely among my favourite YA books.

 

#ShareAPuffinBook Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian

I was delighted to be asked to take part in #ShareAPuffinBook, the campaign around a group of classic children’s books re-released by Puffin this month. The titles include Charlotte’s Web, A Wrinkle in Time, Stuart Little and many more! The book I selected to re-read and write about was Goodnight Mister Tom, Michelle Magorian’s touching novel set in Britain during World War Two.

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The Review

Goodnight Mister Tom tells the story of William Beech, a young evacuee sent to live with the reclusive Tom Oakley in a small village in the English countryside. William is frightened and timid, but with Tom’s gentle care he learns to be happy, to make friends and discovers he is good and talented. But then William’s old life makes an unexpected return – will he see Mister Tom again? And will he stay the same changed, happy boy?

This is a very moving tale, about love, friendship and learning to be yourself. I love how much both William and Tom grow throughout the tale, and the village of Little Weirworld is full of memorable characters. The relationship between William and Tom is incredibly touching as they both learn to embrace their talents, and to love. This relationship is probably my favourite thing about the book; I would even say it is one of my all-time favourite book relationships! William’s transformation is handled very well – Magorian writes the character in a very sensitive manner, showing how he changes gradually. She also deals with the context skilfully, evoking a sense of life in wartime Britain without overloading the reader with information and history. It was wonderful to read this book again, it was a very emotional experience! I don’t think it’s possible not to be moved by the highs and lows of this tale – very highly recommended.

Check out an extract from Goodnight Mister Tom here: 1Goodnight Mister Tom extract

The Extras

These new Puffin editions have extra material for readers to enjoy. In Goodnight Mister Tom this includes a glossary of some of the terms used in the book – such as wireless and Andersen shelter – as well as a quiz, facts about World War Two, recipes and more! This extra material not only adds to the reader’s understanding of the context of the book, but also provides some fun activities related to the book.

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Thank you to Puffin Books for the invitation to join the project, I really enjoyed returning to Goodnight Mister Tom and I am delighted to see these wonderful classic titles being brought to a new audience!

Review: Finding Fortune – Pippa Goodhart

The blog has been a bit slow lately, but I’m working on more reviews and hopefully some more art content. I know it’s summer, but I started an internship last week and things have been busy!

This is a book I read a while ago, it’s a really interesting read with lots of adventure and a fantastic setting. I also love the cover, it is beautifully designed and really captures the atmosphere of the book.

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Finding Fortune

Pippa Goodhart

Catnip, 2013

Adventure, Historical Fiction 10+, 12+

When Ida’s father decides to go to Klondike and join in the gold rush, she is determined to go with him and avoid the boarding school her stern grandmother is trying to send her to. She plans to stow away, and join her Fa on his great adventure. Together they undertake long voyages, cross treacherous mountain passes and begin the seemingly impossible task of finding their fortune.

This is an interesting historical read, exploring an exciting time period. The fact that Ida, a young girl, was involved in the gold rush is also of interest. The book makes it very clear that places like Klondike were considered unsuitable for ladies. It is also a very atmospheric novel – the icy winters are chilly, and the cramped condition of the ship uncomfortable. The close relationship between Ida and her father was enjoyable to read, and there was also a good cast of supporting characters such as Ida’s strict grandmother (‘I am tolerably well, but not as well as I look, you know’), and their Klondike neighbours, young couple Nathan and Carrie. However, I felt the ‘bad’ characters were far too obvious, and their actions were often predictable. The changing between the third person narrative and Ida’s letters in the first person also jarred at times. However, overall this was an engaging historical read, with a convincing sense of adventure, hardship and danger. Finding Fortune will appeal to fans of books like Eva Ibbotson’s Journey to the River Sea.

 

Review: Picture Me Gone – Meg Rosoff

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Picture Me Gone

Meg Rosoff

Penguin (2013)

12+, YA

Mila is not an ordinary 12 year old. Intelligent beyond her years, and remarkably intuitive, she can read people and rooms; picking up on emotions and atmosphere.  So when her father’s friend Matthew goes missing, can Mila find the tiny clues everyone else has overlooked? During the course of her journey with her father to find Matthew, Mila must confront the darker side of human life, and come to grips with a mind she can barely understand.

This is an unusual and gripping new novel from bestselling author Meg Rosoff, with an unforgettable lead character. It is sensitively written, giving a real insight into Mila’s mind and it is enjoyable to watch her grow throughout the novel. The strong relationship she shares with her parents was both refreshing and touching.  I also liked that the possibility of a romance was very much in the background, something which worked well both with Mila’s age and with allowing her individual development as a character. Her journey (physical, mental and emotional) in this book is rendered powerfully. With plenty of twists, and lots of heartfelt emotion Picture Me Gone is both a compelling mystery and a moving coming of age story, not to be missed.

I met Meg Rosoff at Writer's Web TV, she kindly signed my book and gave me some writing advice.

I met Meg Rosoff at Writer’s Web TV, she kindly signed my book and gave me some writing advice.

This review originally appeared in Inis Magazine, issue 40.