Wednesday, 8 April 2015

The Girl Who Walked on Air by Emma Carroll

Oh, this is a super book and confirms (as if needed) that I love Emma Carroll’s stories. This is Emma’s second novel; her first, Frost Hollow Hall, was nominated for the Branford Boase Award last year and was one of my favourites of the whole list. As I said then, it is the best kind of old-fashioned storytelling, and that is without doubt a compliment.
The Girl Who Walked on Air is another exciting adventure, with secrets to uncover and challenges to meet and adversity to conquer. In Louie we have another bold hero, who dares to dream and face up to the world even when she’s scared and alone. She is a showstopper, no mistake.

The first chapter is a grabber – we are right in the heart of the circus with all its drama, magic and danger. We meet ringmaster Ned, circus owner Mr Chipchase and his daughter Kitty, Jasper the trapeze artist, and Pip, Louie’s faithful dog. And the scene is set for Louie’s campaign to be a showstopper to begin in earnest.

Blondin carrying his manager
I enjoyed the story hugely, and loved all the bits about Blondin and Niagara Falls. Tightrope walking looks so impossible and impressive, I find it really quite enthralling. Keeping on the funambulist theme for a mo, Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann has Philippe Petit’s daring Twin Towers walk at its heart and is worth reading for the opening section about that escapade alone.

Back to The Girl Who Walked on Air… brilliant book, gorgeous cover, totally recommended! And if you love Emma Carroll as much as me you’ll no doubt be thrilled that it’s not long to wait until her third book is published. In Darkling Wood is out in July – the cover is another absolute stunner, designed by the same person as for The Girl Who Walked on Air, Julian de Narvaez. There’s a sneak peek on Emma’s website here.

The Girl Who Walked on Air is published in paperback, by Faber & Faber. I bought my copy from a bookshop.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

What I Read

I’m testing out the idea of a weekly What I Read Last Week blog post to see if I like it. I’m hoping it will act as a jog to my memory and perhaps even an aid to reflection on what I’ve been reading, but without the formality of a review structure.

In the last week I’ve been quite focused on reading Desmond Elliott longlist titles. I devoured The Bees by Laline Paull over Saturday and Sunday. My scepticism about a bee narrator was completely unfounded, happily. I’ve not had much success with animal narrators in recent years, but Flora 717 is sufficiently alien that it felt removed from the everyday, and the story does not attempt to be either cute or humorous (this is a good thing). For me, the novel works brilliantly.

I also read Chop Chop by Simon Wroe. I doubt I would’ve come across this if it hadn’t been on the Desmond Elliott longlist. It was a bit of a hard read for me at times; my vegetarian sensibilities took a battering now and then. The atmosphere of a professional (and I use the term lightly) kitchen is well done and I liked the way the idea of narrators is played with. I’m still undecided about how well the story holds together – I’m mulling it over…

Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller is most impressive so far. Both the story and the storytelling wrapped around me and I was hard pressed to put the book down unfinished. The survivalist theme and how that seclusion could affect a child has actually made me think about Emma Donoghue’s Room again, perhaps somewhat unexpectedly. I look forward to finishing the rest of the story and putting some missing pieces together.

 In non-Desmond Elliott reading, I finished Emma Carroll’s The Girl Who Walked on Air. This is a book full of wonders and bravery, more of which later this week. I’ve also been reading Alix Christie’s Gutenberg’s Apprentice. This historical fiction is right up my street, with the birth of printing, religious turmoil, and characters striving to make their mark on the world.

I think that’s it, reading wise, but, I did see a production of Peter Pan on Saturday evening that made me think it really is time I read the book. I’ve watched the Disney version and Hook and Finding Neverland, and read Disney versions to assorted small people as well as the Ladybird Classic. But, I am not convinced I have ever read the actual J.M. Barrie book. This I will rectify.

The Desmond Elliott Longlist 2015

This year, I am rather excited to be part of Dan’s (@utterbiblio) shadow judging panel for the Desmond Elliott Prize. Along with David, Zoe, El, and of course Dan himself, we’re reading, discussing and judging the nominated books – making the longlist into a shortlist and finally coming up with a winner. There’s more about our plans and us on Dan’s blog here.

The list is varied and beautifully gender balanced! It’s interesting for me to think about this prize for debut fiction. It is making me consider not only what else I have read in the last year that would make my own longlist but also what I value in a story, and whether that is different for a debut novel. The way prizes are divided up into genres is also making me think about how little that actually occurs to me when I reach for a book – the bookseller in me is aware that I’m reading a kids’/fantasy/historical/translated/debut but the reader in me approaches them with the same desire to find a connection. That said, I love the excitement of the new, the buzz a debut can provoke, the thrill of not knowing what you’re going to find between the covers…
Issy Bradly and Elizabeth is Missing are hiding somewhere; The Wake I still need to acquire.
I’d read three of the longlist before it was announced, and thanks to the lovely long weekend I have read another two and half since. I read The Miniaturist, A Song for Issy Bradley, and Elizabeth is Missing last year. This weekend I have read Chop Chop, The Bees, and half of Our Endless Numbered Days.
Everything I have read has stimulated me in some way or another. Whether I’ve read my winner yet remains to be seen.

I aim to write something about all of the books over the next six weeks, before the shortlist is announced, and I can’t wait to start discussing them with my fellow shadow judges. To the books!

Friday, 6 March 2015

Pom Pom Gets the Grumps by Sophy Henn

Book Cover:  Pom Pom Gets the Grumps
I love Pom Pom Gets the Grumps. I feel that this little panda and I have much in common. Pom Pom is grumpy because he gets out of the wrong side of bed one day. This is me most days. Mornings and me don’t mix too well. I wish I woke up with sunshine in my heart, but I don’t.

The dark cloud over Pom Pom is just about perfect.

Everything annoys Pom Pom and makes him exclaim ‘Harrumph!’

It all gets too much for him and he explodes at his friends, who are only trying to cheer him up.

Then he is a very sorry panda indeed. That look would break your heart.

Luckily, true friends are there for you even when you’ve been not so very nice, as long as you make amends. It’s a good story, told with few words – which is my favourite type of picture book. Pom Pom’s bad mood is a little bit funny, especially all the harrumphing, but I do empathise with him!

The style of the illustrations is what attracted me initially to the book. I like the chalky texture, and the colours…I sometimes found myself thinking of Tim Burton’s suburbia in Edward Scissorhands or Big Eyes, or a David Hockney painting from the 1960s or ‘70s – all things that make my eyes very blissfully happy. As I said, I love Pom Pom Gets the Grumps!

Sophy Henn has a lovely website with lots more gorgeous pictures and patterns to feast your eyes upon. There is a paper umbrella pattern (in the Projects section) that is so pretty I want to eat it (that is in no way weird, to be clear!)

Pom Pom Gets the Grumps by Sophy Henn is published by Puffin in hardback and paperback. I bought my copy with my own pocket money (or wages as they are sometimes known).

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Happy World Book Day!

Whatever you are doing today I hope you have time to squeeze in a little reading to celebrate World Book Day. 

I love my new job, but today I REALLY MISS being a Children's Bookseller. Good luck to everyone organising school visits and storytimes!

Here are this year's completely brilliant £1 World Book Day books.
World Book Day 2015
The World Book Day website has lots more exciting stuff on it too.

I can't resist a little shout for the storytelling event at Foyles on Saturday. The theme is Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and it looks like it will be lots of fun. All the details can be found on the Foyles website.


Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Book Shopping

On Monday I was seized with the desire to do a spot of book shopping. This is really very easy to do when you work in a big and beautiful bookshop! Books were browsed and books were bought.

I was always going to buy some World Book Day Books. This year’s are an outstandingly good selection. Goth Girl and the Pirate Queen is crammed full of Chris Riddell’s illustrations – my mind boggles to think all this is mine (and yours if you get yourself to a bookshop) for £1. Also a ridiculous bargain is Geek Drama, which is set between Geek Girl 1 and 2 so there’s no need to worry about spoilers for the new full-length story.

Talking of geeks…The Case of the Exploding Loo is the first story by Rachel Hamilton featuring Noelle (or Know-All) Hawkins, mystery-solving child genius. It is VERY funny and has caused strangers to look askance at me laughing on public transport.

Faber very cunningly gave away samplers of The Girl in the Red Coat at the end of last week. I read the one I grabbed from the hand of a woman at Euston (she was giving them away, I didn’t randomly steal someone else’s) and haven’t stopped thinking about it since; the half price hardback was clearly too much of a temptation to resist. A little girl goes missing at a festival and is taken in by a man claiming to be her grandfather...the opening chapters are so gripping that I will read this in my next available grown-ups' fiction spot.

I am so excited that the second volume of Coffin Hill is out. I got behind with the comics so decided to wait to read it in graphic novel form. I won’t pretend being patient has sat easily with me, but it’s all worth it now I have this. It’s dark and gothic and creepy and intriguing and beautiful to look at. And it has witches.

Two more things that are beautiful to look at round off my shopping spree. Noisy Neighbours is full of colours and shapes that make me think of my childhood and Lemur Dreamer is just so cute. Picture books are a joy.


I haven’t given up the idea of joining in with TBR20, but I’m not ready just yet. And, I gave seven boxes of books to the charity shop last week (thanks Dad for shifting them all for me) so I do have a little wiggle room right at the moment. And buying books is one of life’s pleasures – but I remind myself that reading them is even better.

Friday, 27 February 2015

The Dreamsnatcher Blog Tour

The Dreamsnatcher
Today, I could not be more thrilled to welcome Abi Elphinstone to my blog. Abi's debut book, The Dreamsnatcher, is an amazing adventure story and was published yesterday. It is a brilliant book and I can't recommend it enough. The main character Moll has a very special friend; over to Abi to explain...

The Only Animal That Can’t Be Tamed…

Although Moll is an orphan, she has a lot of people looking out for her back in camp: Oak and Mooshie, Sid, Cinderella Bull and even Hard-Times Bob. But it’s the wildcat from the northern wilderness that perhaps looks after Moll the most. Whether she’s trespassing into the Deepwood to get her cob back or racing over the heath away from Skull, Gryff is never far from Moll’s side.

Gryff - hunting for food in the winter

It’s funny to think that when I wrote a very early draft of The Dreamsnatcher, Moll’s animal companion started out as an owl called Cobweb! He was a cute little tawny owl who could swivel his head full circle and do a shuffly backwards moonwalk, but as the story developed, I realised I wanted a wilder animal – one who could race through the forest by Moll’s side and protect her if danger lurked close. At first, I wanted that animal to be a snow leopard, one of the most secretive wild animals in the world – and one I fell in love with after reading Jackie Morris’ The Snow Leopard. But I needed my story to be believable and although I never say where The Dreamsnatcher is set, in my mind it’s in the New Forest in England – and there aren’t any snow leopards there, that’s for sure…

The Snow Leopard in Jackie Morris’ book

I grew up in Scotland and I remember glimpsing a wildcat once in a wood on the moors and my father saying how rare they were (they are currently a critically endangered species with an estimated 35 left in the wild in the UK) and how they were ‘the only animal that can’t be tamed.’ Moll is about as feral as kids come so a wildcat seemed a fitting sidekick for her – and in my head I could imagine one coming down from the ‘northern wilderness’ to the ‘southern parts of the country’ to protect Moll. It then took me ages to come up with a name for my wildcat and after weeks of thinking, I sent this email to my husband, Edo: ‘Which of these names do you think is the best name for a wildcat? Silver, Skylar, Fly, Pace, Grey, Bry. The wildcat is solitary, intelligent, fiercely protective, stealthy... And it's male.’ Edo replied: ‘None of those. I like Gryff.’ As soon as I heard it, I knew Gryff was perfect – the name even sounded like a growl he might make.

Gryff looking over to check up on Moll

It was a freezing day in January when I went to watch the wildcats in captivity at the New Forest wildlife park. But I sat shivering in the snow before their huge cages, watching them sleep, eat, stretch and slink around their territory. I listened to their greeting call and watched them leap, like ripples of silk, from the tallest branches to the ground. The wildcats’ warning growls sent shivers down my spine and watching them rip apart meat with razor-sharp claws made me understand that Gryff, although a friend to Moll, would have to be wild at heart. And after seeing all this, Gryff went from being a page on Wikipedia to a fully-drawn character.

Me holding baby Gryff (I found him in Burma!)

Gryff is large, even for a wildcat, with a muscular body and long, banded legs. His coat is thick and grey with jet-black stripes and his tail is long and bushy, ringed with bands of black and ending in a blunt tip. His eyes are large and bright yellow/green (a bit like Moll’s but with vertical black pupils) and he has white whiskers and sharp claws on all four limbs. Usually he sleeps inside hollowed trees, beneath fallen branches, inside rocky cracks or in the abandoned nests of other large animals like foxes or badgers. But because Skull’s dark magic is growing stronger, Gryff starts to sleep beneath Moll’s wagon so that he can guard her at night. Gryff hunts at dawn or dusk, patrolling forest glades and woodland areas and he can leap from the highest branches of trees to the ground unscathed when hunting other animals. He uses his camouflage and patience to stalk as close possible to his prey before reaching a full speed sprint and catching it. He crouches on alder branches overhanging the river when he’s after a duck, he waits above rabbit warrens for rabbits to emerge and he kills by grabbing the prey in his claws, piercing the neck with his fangs, then consuming almost every part of the kill. Gryff’s night vision is seven times better than our own and his hearing is active 24 hours a day, even when he’s sleeping. He can detect minute changes in air currents with his whiskers movement, he can smell meat 200 metres away and in sprints he can reach up to 30 miles per hour!

Gryff hunting in the mountains

Gryff is powerful, agile, intelligent, fearless, loyal and patient and although he is by nature a solitary animal full of secrets, he forms an extraordinary bond with Moll and she learns to read his movements…

·      Whiskers twitching: he’s heard something
·      Ears swivelling: he’s listening for something
·      Ears flattened to his head: he’s scared
·      Tail down low: he’s seen something
·      Stamping forelimbs: he’s angry

… and his noises…

·      Brrroooooo: his greeting call (like a dynamo throbbing deep in the earth)
·      Urrrrrrrrrrrr: he’s seen something that could be a threat
·      Hisssssssssss: he’s angry or feels threatened
·      PAAAAH: he’s angry (often comes with growling, spitting and snarling)
·      Noine, noine, noine: he’s content (like a purr but wilder)

If you’re interested in helping protect the critically endangered Scottish wildcat, check out the fantastic school workshops and assemblies Wild Intrigue offers:

Or get involved in buying some beautiful wildcat art to help raise money to save the wildcat: