Shadow (Wendy Darling, #3) by Colleen Oakes

Received from NetGalley for review. 

‘You know that place between sleep and awake, that place where you still remember dreaming? That’s where I’ll always love you. That’s where I’ll be waiting.’ – Peter Pan

What a rip-roaring, fast-paced, and action-packed conclusion to the Wendy Darling trilogy – not that I expected anything less from Colleen Oakes. Shadow picks up where Seas finished, with Wendy back with Peter Pan and someone much more unexpected, trying to bring him and the murderous Shadow that resides within him down, aided by an unexpectedly loveable Hook (seriously, Hook is such a babe).

I won’t go into the plot too much – there is too much risk of spoilers, especially with the story being full of moves and countermoves – but the focus is on Wendy finding a way to defeat the murderous Shadow that Peter controls, that she can see and sense lurking within him. I can’t get over the amazing character development that Wendy undergoes, she is so different from the girl we meet in Stars, she is, more than ever, a powerful and brave young woman who is fiercely loyal to those she loves. She was by far favourite character and, alongside Hook, has been the star of this series. Peter remains dastardly, becoming more obsessed with waging war against Hook by any means possible, yet still has that strange allure; you know he’s done and is doing terrible things, yet the mischievous boy who never grew up is still there (although I was glad of some redemption for him, in my opinion anyway).

The action and suspense throughout was relentless – I spent the entire book trying to figure out what was going to happen and how everything would play out, trying to outthink Oakes’ plot twists, which proved to be practically impossible. There are so many different games being played by different characters that you can never quite tell where their allegiance lies – pirates, mermaids, and lost boys alike have different agendas, and they all must decide what they believe in when Hook and Peter face each other. My heart was racing until the very end, and I won’t deny that the ending all but destroyed me. I think it was a magnificent way to finish and I had SO MANY FEELINGS (read it and you’ll see why).

Peter Pan will always be one of my favourite stories and this series is a wonderful addition to the plethora of retellings and reimaginings of a classic and beloved story. Oakes took the story in an unexpected direction but I loved every moment of it and can’t wait to see what she writes next.

Read: July 3rd-10th 2017

4/5 stars

Little Bits

Nightmare Card by Catherine Johnson

I’m getting really pissed off with these so called ‘dyslexia friendly’ and ‘easy read’ books. I’m a teacher and I can see why they exist and why they are used, but I feel that they are actually an insult to dyslexic and/or reluctant readers; most of them are incredibly dull with barely any story line, and that is not how to engage someone to read. If Harry Potter is considered good for readers who struggle why is this crap being used in schools?! There are so many good books for people who have issues with reading, don’t insult their intelligence and ability with stuff like this.

Read: June 23rd 2017

1/5 stars

A Book for Benny by Judith Koppens

Recieved from NetGalley for review. 

This is an incredibly short children’s book, with about sixteen pages of actual story, but it is also incredibly adorable. The message is simple but important, and the accompanying illustrations are delightful and complement the story perfectly.

The story follows Sam, a young girl who wants to sit at home and read, but her dog, Benny, has other ideas. Sam decides to take Benny to the library to find a book that he’ll love so that they can both enjoy a cosy read on the sofa. Sam’s rummaging for the perfect book, and Benny’s reactions, will definitely get a giggle from younger readers, and I loved Sam’s persistence; when one book didn’t capture Benny’s interest she went straight back to the bookshelves for another. I always tell the children I teach that if they don’t like reading it’s just because they haven’t found the right book, and I like how this story echoes that idea; the right book is out there, just waiting to be found!

Read: July 3rd 2017

3/5 stars

 

Flight of a Starling by Lisa Heathfield

Received from NetGalley for review.

Flight of a Starling was something vastly different to what I was expecting. I was prepared for circus life, first love, and teenage angst, not so much for the grief, tension, and tragedy that was delivered. I should have known better – Lisa Heathfield’s previous novels have broken my heart and shaken me to the core, and this one was no different. I did feel, however, that the second half of the novel was rushed in comparison to the slow build of the first half; Lo’s feeling of anxiety, confusion, and anger suddenly explode in a dramatic way that lead towards a frantic, tense ending. There’s no denying that this is another excellent story from Heathfield, but I still feel Paper Butterflies is her finest work.

The story centres on sisters Rita and Lo – they are part of a travelling circus with their ma and da, and a small host of others who may as well be family. They live, work, and travel together and the sense of family between them is strong – they are loyal to each other and the life that they live, with some being unfairly suspicious of ‘flatties’ (non-circus people). Whilst Rita is completely happy with her life, Lo finds herself wanting to experience something more, something different – her chance meeting with a boy called Dean awaken feelings in her that she’s never had before, the feeling that maybe the circus isn’t everything and she might not want to travel and perform forever. This feeling only grows as she learns of a secret within the circus that could destroy her family and the novel focuses on her increasingly angry and unsure feelings.

The narrative is split between Rita and Lo and I loved the two different perspectives – Rita loves the circus and doesn’t understand how Lo could ever want to leave, whereas Lo finds herself overwhelmed by the strength of her emotions, both towards the circus and towards Dean. When Lo sees something she shouldn’t, the very foundations of her life crumble and she finds a steadiness, a new feeling of home, with Dean. I did find some of Lo’s feelings towards Dean silly, but I’m well aware of the power of infatuation and how important someone can seem when you’re young, and fully understood why Lo felt the way she did. Heathfield created a very strong and realistic voice for both Rita and Lo, showing the craziness of growing up and the emotions that come with it.

The dramatic turning point in the story was heart-breaking, but felt disjointed. I felt like the first half of the novel was setting up for something completely different – I won’t go into detail but I had a feeling what would happen, it just didn’t happen in the way I expected at all. It seemed a bit rushed in comparison to the rest of the story, although it dealt with loss and grief incredibly well. It may just be me, though, as I can’t fault the writing in any way; I had an extremely strong emotional reaction to this story despite the rushed feeling of the ending, which can’t be a bad thing.

Read: June 19th-22nd 2017

4/5 stars

The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord

Received from NetGalley for review.

And I say a final prayer, this one in gratitude that there are people who will protect kids with a fire that makes them sprint after cars, fight systems, curse with rage.
It’s enough to make you believe.
Maybe not in symbols; maybe not in gods. But certainly in people.

This is lovely and heart-breaking and utterly wonderful, all at once. The Names They Gave Us surprised me, something that has happened a few times recently with contemporary young adult novels – it is an incredibly well written story about a girl coming to grips with her mother’s cancer returning, with her faith and what it truly means, and with her perception of people. It deals with grief, all kinds of abuse and suffering, the meaning of faith, and love, all with sensitivity amidst the harsh reality of those situations, and places importance of the power of love, of caring, of acceptance, and it moved me greatly – much more than I expected. The power of the story crept up on me slowly, and it was only once I was half way through that I realised just how invested I was in the lives of the characters.

The story follows Lucy, whose life turns upside down when her mother’s cancer returns, her boyfriend ‘pauses’ their relationship, and her mother suggests she go to Daybreak, a camp for troubled kids, rather than their bible camp, for the summer. Her ordered world becomes chaos and she struggles massively with anxiety over her mother, confusion over her relationship, and fear over being at Daybreak, all the while questioning the faith that has inherently been a part of her life. I found it so fascinating seeing how Lucy dealt with everything as the novel progressed; nothing comes easy and she struggled massively to cope, but she keeps trying, and soon begins to realise that life, relationships, and religion, aren’t as black and white as she once thought. Her character development is tremendous and I became really invested in how she dealt with her faith – I’m not religious at all but I loved the way she explored her own faith and the things that she discovered along the way.

“Whose empire did you just overthrow?”
My own.

The entire story and the characters that make it are brilliant. Lord has covered so many important and deep subjects in such an accessible way that you don’t need to have experienced trauma, grief, breakups, or floundering faith, you don’t need to have visited a summer camp or been consumed with worry for your mother’s mortality – it’s about people, it’s about friendships and love, and being comfortable with who you are and the things that have defined you, and that is something incredible. I imagine, though, that everyone could find something to relate to within this book, I know that Lucy’s feelings and worries about her mother did for me. I’m not sure there’s anything negative I could write about The Names They Gave Us, it has its own unique magic and I can’t recommend it enough – it has everything you would want from a novel and more, and it kept me feeling every emotion until the very end. And those last three pages? They are something else entirely.

I believe in nature, in science, in jazz, in dancing.
And I believe in people. In their resilience, in their goodness.
This is my credo; this is my hymn. Maybe it’s not good enough for heaven, and maybe I’m even wrong. But if I can walk through the fire and, with blistered skin, still have faith in better days? I have to believe that’s good enough.

Read: May 30th-June 8th 2017

5/5 stars

Little Bits

milk and honey by Rupi Kaur

The more I read, the more I loved. Kaur is an incredible voice, so vivid and raw I could feel her words in every part of me.

you tell me to quiet down cause
my opinions makes me less beautiful
but i was not made with a fire in my belly
so i could be put out
i was not made with a lightness on my tongue
so i could be easy to swallow
i was made heavy
half blade and half silk
difficult to forget and not easy
for the mind to follow

Read: May 25th-26th 2017

5/5 stars

Five Hundred Miles by Kevin Brooks

As with the other ‘dyslexia friendly’ and ‘easy read’ books used in the school where I teach, I can see why Five Hundred Miles has been used; we have some incredibly reluctant readers so these books are not without merit, but I find them to be lacking regardless. The plot is underdeveloped and the ending is rushed, although it was an easy read and engaged my class fairly well.

Read: May 26th 2017

2/5 stars

Spring Story (Brambly Hedge) by Jill Barklem

I can’t remember if I read the Brambly Hedge stories when I was little (probably, but a million books have been and gone since then), but they are absolutely adorable. Such sweet stories and illustrations, I can see why they have delighted young and old for so long.

Read: June 3rd 2017

4/5 stars

The Stolen Child

Where dips the rocky highland
Of Sleuth Wood in the lake,
There lies a leafy island
Where flapping herons wake
The drowsy water rats;
There we’ve hid our faery vats,
Full of berrys
And of reddest stolen cherries.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Where the wave of moonlight glosses
The dim gray sands with light,
Far off by furthest Rosses
We foot it all the night,
Weaving olden dances
Mingling hands and mingling glances
Till the moon has taken flight;
To and fro we leap
And chase the frothy bubbles,
While the world is full of troubles
And anxious in its sleep.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Where the wandering water gushes
From the hills above Glen-Car,
In pools among the rushes
That scarce could bathe a star,
We seek for slumbering trout
And whispering in their ears
Give them unquiet dreams;
Leaning softly out
From ferns that drop their tears
Over the young streams.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Away with us he’s going,
The solemn-eyed:
He’ll hear no more the lowing
Of the calves on the warm hillside
Or the kettle on the hob
Sing peace into his breast,
Or see the brown mice bob
Round and round the oatmeal chest.
For he comes, the human child,
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than he can understand.

– W.B. Yeats

Noteworthy by Riley Redgate

Received from NetGalley for review.

Noteworthy was an unexpectedly good read – although the idea of a girl disguising herself as a boy and infiltrating an all-male acapella group just so she can live her passion sounded amazing, I wasn’t sure how good it would be in novel form. Happily, my concerns were quickly made null and void, and I can honestly say this is one of the funniest books I have read so far this year, with genuine laugh out loud moments in abundance – I am not exaggerating when I say I was cackling with laughter.

I reached up with both hands, one for levering bags out of the way and the other for shampoo retrieval, which meant dropping my towel, and that was how I found myself naked in the trash closet digging through the garbage like a sad hairless raccoon.

The story focuses on Jordan Sun, a student on scholarship at a prestigious performing arts school whose singing voice is considered too deep to be suited to ‘leading lady’ roles within musical theatre. However, when she disguises herself as a boy and auditions for the Sharpshooters (an all-male acapella group), she finds a place where her voice fits and she finally feels herself. Even though she is technically in disguise as Julian, she feels freer than she ever has before.

Although a lot of this book is generally light-hearted and hilarious, Redgate also deals with difficult subjects – the ideas of sexuality, privilege, poverty, inequality, uncertainty, what constitutes femininity and masculinity, are all explored with sensitivity, and Jordan learns a lot about herself and her preconceived notions about gender throughout the novel. She accepts her own bisexuality, and realises that just because she is comfortable dressing in what is considered a more masculine way, she is no less of a girl for it – gender is a social construct, and what you have between your legs or what you choose to wear has nothing to do with it.

But the longer I thought about the possibility that I might not be a girl, the more I became sure that I was one. I knew it innately. The struggle to fit into some narrow window of femininity didn’t exclude me from the club.

I cannot recommend this book enough; it deals with difficult subjects in an accessible way, and is truly funny. Those of us who have seen Pitch Perfect already know how aca-awesome acapella can be, but if you haven’t experienced the world of making music with your mouth, I suggest you give it a try.

Read: May 17th-25th 2017

4/5 stars

Buzz Books 2017: Young Adult Fall/Winter by Publishers Lunch

Received from NetGalley for review.

Another season, another set of book excerpts from Publishers Lunch, this time in preparation for colder weather. As usual, I’ve written down the ones that piqued my interest the most and I am incredibly excited to get my hands on them as soon as I can.

My can’t wait for books:

1. Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust

2. Everless by Sara Holland

3. All Rights Reserved by Gregory Scott Katsoulis

4. The Gatekeepers by Jen Lancaster

5. Warcross by Marie Lu

6. Before I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp. I’m not entirely sure about this one yet, but it certainly sounds intriguing.

7. Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi

Read: May 28th 2017

4/5 stars