Pigeon P.I : Meg McLaren

Pigeon P.I.Pigeon P.I. by Meg McLaren

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When it comes to picture books, I always, always have to talk about the complexity of them. They are hard beasts to get right, they are even harder beasts to do well. Pigeon P.I is something quite oddly wonderful, a sort of mashup of gumshoe detective drama with a lot of bird puns and something quite delightful in the process. Forgive me for simply reciting the blurb in whole but I think it does the business better than anything I can

CASE No. 621 – Feathered friends are going missing all over town, but private investigator Murray likes the quiet life … until a little bird tells him a story the famous Pigeon P.I cannot ignore.

There’s such a lot to enjoy in this book from the wry beginning of “Business was slow / just the way I liked it” through to the exuberant flurry of detail that dots nearly every page and in substantial amounts. Some of the more specific puns may require explaining (“Privet Eye – Gardening Solutions”) but it’s a delight to pick them out and this is a book that will sing with repeated reading (“Two beaks are better than one”). As Murray starts to work his way through the case, he comes into contact with a range of individuals – plucky canaries, furtive pigeons, and the reveal of the eventual kingpin is a delight. It’s a soaring, intense, bold double spread and one that stamps the book with such a moment that you can’t help but stop and drink it in.

I’d definitely place this a little towards the older edge of picture books, somewhere around Elys Dolan and Sarah Bee because of the dense detail and puns. It’s such a smart and witty book, and it’s one that gives different endpapers! Endpapers are so important! The reader gets a guide to investigation at the start of the book – take quiet snacks, and not ‘quiet but impractical’ snacks such as jelly; whilst the end of the book has tips on advanced detection featuring Duck Tracy and Sherstork Holmes. A delight. A bold, mad, glorious delight.

My thanks to the publisher for a review copy.

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The Calling – Endgame #1 : James Frey

The Calling (Endgame, #1)The Calling by James Frey

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

 

 

The reviewer sat down. She opened up her laptop. She navigated to Goodreads. She typed in the title. She found the book. She rated it one star.
She paused.
She had not enjoyed The Calling. She had found it somewhat challenging, complex, problematic.
It had begun promisingly; a good looking book is a good looking book.
It speaks of money, cash, investment.
Hope. Ambition.
But this book had not provided hope.
Or ambition.
It was not that the narrative was problematic. It had reminded her oddly, confusedly, strangely of The Amazing Race. It was The Amazing Race meets The Hunger Games and, in a way, she could deal with that. She could even deal with the paragraphs that seemed to be averse to indents, to the stilted and problematic third person, or to text that used one adjective when three could do, because this looked like it could be an interesting book.
But The Calling was not an interesting book.
It was a bad book.
She began to read parts of it out to the people she lived with, asking them to share in paragraphs that read like the literary equivalent of a hernia. A moon was 21 degrees above the horizon. Cars drove through countries and each and every country was named. Characters were bored, and the causes of their boredom were listed for the next five thousand paragraphs.
This book read, she realised, like somebody who was trying to hit word count.
Like word count, the count of words, the word of counts.
And she liked some of it, even though she was appalled by how badly it was written. How poorly it was scribed. How problematically it was inked.
But mostly she disliked it.
She did not normally review books like this, but The Calling had frustrated her. Annoyed her. Made her disgruntled.
It was in the distrust of the story for itself. There was a good story underneath it all, she realised, but it was so desperately cloaked with something else. Something that wanted to dazzle and spin. Something that felt it necessary to point out every little piece of detail in the scene. Something that could squeeze thirteen hundred words out of a person standing up.
Something that felt a little bit frantic and a whole lot of unnecessary.
She did not normally review books like this.
It did not feel constructive.
But The Calling had made itself an exception.

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The Yellow Room : Jess Vallance

The Yellow RoomThe Yellow Room by Jess Vallance

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I didn’t know what to expect from this. I picked it up because of the cover, and for some reason came home from the library with a handful of yellow books. Perhaps colour-based selection will be my new method when I’m not sure what to get; after all, it worked perfectly here. This is a hell of a book and it is surprising. It’s not often that I get to use that about a thriller because we are so familiar with what they do. We are trained to look for twists and turns and lies and deceit but sometimes a book just throws itself in a direction that you don’t expect. And when it does it well, oh that’s a good moment indeed.

The Yellow Room is outstanding.

The central protagonist, Anna, received a letter from her father’s girlfriend, Edie. It is unexpected: her father is dead, and Edie would like to meet her. The two start to form a close relationship and Edie provides much of the mothering that Anna lacks and needs – her own mother is preoccupied with work, and their relationship is deeply fractured. Yet Edie has problems and secrets of her own;, and secrets always have a way of being found out…

Vallance’s writing is calm and controlled and wickedly strong. It’s hard to write something like this because the temptation is to strew it with Conscious Things That You Should Pay Attention To. Vallance doesn’t do this; she laces her work with a sort of conscious believeablity throughout and everything that is within it is sort of normal and okay and then, when the shifts come and Things Happen, you sort of can’t process it because it’s so out of the blue and yet, in a way, it was there all along. That is an awful sentence but it’s the nearest I can come towards conveying the experience of this book. The last third, in particular, is vital and tense and brilliant.

I also loved how Vallance didn’t seek the easy way out. I’m starting to cleave towards these texts that treat every individual within them as human. Adults, child, all of them. No character left behind, no character placed in just as a cardboard cut out. Everyone has motivation, depth and when they do the things they do it is understandable. It is sympathetic, even when they are awful and unconscionable things. Give me depth, and I will follow you to the moon and back. I really will.

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The State of Grace : Rachael Lucas

The State of GraceThe State of Grace by Rachael Lucas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Grace, the titular heroine of The State of Grace, has Aspergers. She also has a horse, and a boy that she sort of likes but doesn’t quite know how to act with. Coupled with this her dad is on long work trips overseas, her mother is starting to act weird, and her sister has secrets of her own, there’s a lot going on. Throw in a horse, some nice little nerdy in-jokes, and you’ve got quite a charming story driven by an intense sense of heart. I liked The State Of Grace. It’s a little messy, a little tumbly, a little disjointed, but unerringly driven by a sense of love and a determination to let Grace tell her story.

I really appreciate Lucas for centring Aspergers within this. People look for reflections of themselves within literature, and even more so when it comes to children and young adult. Whether that’s a drive driven by the adults or the young readers themselves is a debate for another time, but it happens. It’s one of the most consistent questions I get asked, irrespective of context. “Do you have a book about…?” Where The State Of Grace shines is both in its frankness of discussing Aspergers but also in the additional material at the back which covers more about the issue.

I also really loved the horse element in this. Grace has an Arab called Mabel, and that’s something we don’t often see in contemporary young adult. Her relationship with Mabel is sensitively told, and gives Grace both a sense of power and responsibility. It comes towards the fore at the end of the book and though I won’t spoil the incident in question, the reaction on Grace’s part is immensely true to life.

Tonally, The State of Grace has a lot to pay back towards the old Pullein-Thompson books but also towards a modern sort of romance vibe. It’s very genuine and somewhat innocent in feel, but really sort of determinedly charming with that. I liked this. Also, on a slightly tangential note, I would definitely welcome more male representation in texts of this nature. I really hope The State Of Grace signifies the start of that movement and of that discussion.

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Talking Mobile Fictions, Digital Storytelling and Hairy Maclary with Alastair Horne

Forgive me resharing this, particularly if you subscribe to both my blogs, but I think this deserves it. I interview Alastair Horne regarding his PhD research ; we touch on digital storytelling, apps for children, tips for authors on social media, his favourite children’s book and Hairy Maclary. It’s so worth a read and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Big boots and adventures

I’m privileged to be able to share something special with you today. This is an interview I did with Alastair Horne about his PhD research. Alastair is looking at the role of digital devices in fiction and how they’re affecting the relationships between author, text and reader. His topic really struck home for me because children’s literature has a relatively uneasy relationship with the digital device. It’s a relationship that I’m not sure should be as uneasy as it is but it is uneasy nevertheless. You only have to look at the fairly regular headlines that talk about children being addicted to screens to see the sort of dialogue that I’m referring too. 

That’s what drove me to get in touch with Alastair, alongside a general intrigue for his research topic, and I’m immensely grateful to him both for saying yes and also giving me some incredibly thoughtful answers. I…

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Wuthering Heights : Emily Brontë

Wuthering HeightsWuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It’s odd, sometimes, how a book holds a consciousness in your brain before you have ever read a single page of it. Wuthering Heights is embedded somewhere in there, somewhere near Kate Bush and somewhere near the moorland that turns to grey and steel on an Autumn morning.

A while back I read my first ever Jane Austen. I have now read my first ever Brontë. These aren’t books that sit comfortably within my world; I am somebody who reads a lot, but I, as everyone does, have my grooves. So I went to Emily and to Wuthering Heights, prompted somewhat by To Walk Invisible in the hope to finally read a Brontë and to step out of those grooves once more. It’s good to do that every now and then.

So.

How long can I put off telling you what I thought about this book?

Everyone is horrible. Everyone is horrible and Northern with a capital By ‘Eck (I am Northern and stuggled substantially with the dialect of the novel), and everyone just gets horribler (forgive me, but it’s the only way I can express it) throughout the novel. It’s not an easy read. It also somewhat baffles me as to how I had grouped Heathcliff in ‘Fictional Attractive Gentlemen Whom Everyone Has A Crush On’ because he too is hideous. And the dog thing! I admit that I got to a point with Wuthering Heights where I grabbed the nearest person to me and said, “Do you know what’s gone on now?” and told them and then we discussed how on earth that sort of thing goes on and then the weather and the buses, for we are British and that is what we do.

I shall take a deep breath now, and restore a semblance of normality to this novel. Emily Brontë can write, undoubtedly. She burns with this sort of wild anger and love, so often the same thing here, and her description of landscape is superb. Ineffably so. These are lived in moors and known spaces; and I think it is in those moments that the novel worked for me. I write about the representation of landscape in my thesis and so it is a topic close to my heart. The setting of a scene can tell you everything before anyone has even opened their mouths.

But Heathcliff is not a hottie. Everyone else is moronic. Everything else is angry.

This isn’t a book about love, not really.

It’s a book about selfishness. It’s a book about locking the door and locking the world far away, and for me, as a reader located within that world, I felt invasive. Wuthering Heights screams to be read and fights, furiously, to hold its story to itself. Perhaps that’s it, right there. Perhaps that’s it.

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A Library of Lemons : Jo Cotterill

A Library of LemonsA Library of Lemons by Jo Cotterill

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It is a beautiful day and I would like to talk to you about beautiful things. I would like to talk to you about quiet and gentle and sympathetic and kind books and A Library Of Lemons is all of that and so much more.

I have a lot of time for Jo Cotterill. I adored Looking At The Stars, a wise and sensitive and graceful book about living in the worst of times, and I loved A Library Of Lemons. Absolutely, furiously, painfully loved it.

Calypso and her dad live alone in their big, dusty house. Her mother died, and they don’t really talk about it. Instead, Calypso’s dad preaches the values of inner strength and self-reliance and then mainly just locks himself away to work on his book. There’s never any food in the fridge, and Calypso is forced to look after herself. A lot. She withdraws into her love of books and fiction and the gap between her and her dad seems to widen. The arrival of a new girl at school, Mae, changes that. Calypso and Mae become friends. And, upon seeing how life can be in a normal house, Calypso starts to realise that her and her Dad have some serious problems to address.

I talk a lot about kindness in middle grade fiction because I think it’s a very important element to consider. It’s not that I want everything to be hugs and roses because nothing is. It’s more that I want the awareness of people being people, and that not everything in the world is as cut and dry as people being good and people being bad. People are people. And I think to realise that; to portray adults as fallible, to portray children as participants within a world that isn’t black and white, and to do that kindly is an immense gift. Cotterill writes stories that don’t leave people behind. Everyone earns their space and fills it, and it’s all done in such a subtle, nuanced way that is remarkable.

One thing to note about A Library Of Lemons is that it deals with some very serious issues, including bereavement, grieving, depression and young carers. It does all of this in a very gentle, honest way that I suspect would be immensely helpful to those needing to articulate such issues and I would immensely recommend it to those working in such a context. But, as ever, please read it yourself beforehand. I always say this because it’s vital to know a book and the issues it touches upon before dealing with it in a sensitive context. Plus, it is a joy. A Library Of Lemons is one of those books that reaches out to those on the edge of society and pulls them back in. And I think that is something rather beautiful indeed.

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