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English teacher interested in language and culture, and also in fiction using magic, myth, folklore and the supernatural. Now teaching part-time in a Leicester Upper School (ages 14-19) and also writing for children, teens and teachers.

Friday, 30 August 2013

Review: Oliver and the Seawigs by Philip Reeve, illustrated by Sarah McIntyre

Weird water creatures and mad explorers combine in a dazzlingly original children's fantasy adventure story 

I so enjoyed this madcap romp through the oceans, and so will the target audience of 7+. Really, I'm not convinced there's an upper age limit on this kind of fun.

The book represents a brilliant combination of text and image, being beautifully illustrated throughout. Philip Reeve's delightfully zany creations are brought to life through Sarah McIntyre's energetic and witty drawings.

The characters are deliciously quirky, with the mythical and magical elements showing an inventiveness worthy of Eva Ibbotson. There is an anarchic feel to this book, which is perhaps some of the reason it put me in mind of her work. The plot is equally strange and wonderful, featuring the most bizarre competition I've ever had the pleasure of reading about, islands that wander around the seas, mermaids, sea monkeys and a dastardly villain.

I've really emphasised the humour here, because it is one of the defining features of the book. Let me just say, though, that I tend not to enjoy the slightly-too-silly-for-me humour sometimes found in 'boys' books'. This is not in that category. Brilliantly bonkers yes, but not pants-and-bums silly.

In short, if you enjoy slightly mad humour, magic and/or adventure, this is a book you will love.

Book Description

Along with his friends, a grumpy old albatross, a short-sighted mermaid, and a friendly island called Cliff, Oliver sets out to rescue his missing parents. On their perilous journey the friends meet evil islands, a boy called Stacey (not a girl's name) and more sea monkeys than you can wave some seaweed at.

****************
Publishing 5 September 2013 by Oxford University Press
For more info visit the publisher's web page
My grateful thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy

Monday, 26 August 2013

Review: Museum Mayhem by Sara Grant (Magic Trix 4)

More delightful witchery from the Magic Trix series for young readers 

This series is really just lovely. If it's new to you, don't despair, there's time to catch up. Here are my reviews for the earlier titles: The Witching Hour, Flying High, Birthday Wishes.

In this instalment, Trix gets witching cough, which leads to all manner of mayhem on a trip to the Natural History Museum with her family and Holly. As ever, Sara Grant's gentle storytelling emphasises the traits Trix will need to be a good Fairy Godmother one day, offering sound messages about friendship and kindness to her young readers.

I was happy to see Jinx - Trix's magical kitten familiar - getting a good portion of the action in this story. I always enjoy the portions of the story told from his perspective, and it was great to see him more actively involved in the plot.

I really can't recommend this series enough. It will definitely appeal to little girls, offering them funny stories, magic and the chance to see girl characters doing things and having an impact. Great stuff!

From the Back Cover

The three signs that you may be a witch . . .
  • You occasionally see witches flying across the midnight sky on their broomsticks.
  • Rhyming spells pop into your head at the drop of a (witch's) hat!
  • You love planning magical surprises for your friends.
When you're a witch, coughs and sneezes can have surprising special effects - as Trix finds out when a trip to the museum leads to spotty mammoths and lively dinosaurs! Can Jinx the magic kitten help Trix find a cure before her witchy secret is revealed?

**********
Published 4 July by Orion Children's Books
My grateful thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy (which seems to have migrated to my daughter's shelves...)

Friday, 23 August 2013

Blog Tour: Student Bodies by Sean Cummings - I'm All About the Ass-Kicking (plus GIVEAWAY!)

I'm really excited to have Sean Cummings here at the Hearthfire today, having loved both Poltergeeks and Student Bodies (links to my reviews).

Click here for more tour links

I’m All About The Ass-Kicking

My thanks to Beth Kemp for inviting me to do a guest posting today.

I write urban fantasy – it’s kind of my passion because there’s something liberating about the entire genre. Yes, there are similar kinds of characters with similar kinds of story arcs, but what I really love more than anything is the serious ass-kicking that goes on.

Because slamming evildoers is really something we all might like to do deep down inside. So I tend to live vicariously through the heroes and heroines in books by Jim Butcher, Simon R. Green, Nancy Holzner … I could list all the UF titles I’ve read and probably pick out the best ass-kicking scenes in each one. So when I set about to write a young adult urban fantasy, I really wanted to create a character who epitomizes the kinds of qualities that I’ve found in protagonists by my favorite authors. I also wanted to write a book that was starkly different from what’s currently on the YA shelves at your local bookseller.

In POLTERGEEKS, teen witch Julie Richardson has something to prove to her mother. She’s cocky, snarky, independent and utterly fearless. Unfortunately for her, Mom winds up on the receiving end of a dark spell that rips her soul out of her body and leaves her in a coma. Voila! A hero’s journey. And what kind of hero would you be if you didn’t have a “chosen one” aspect to your life. Julie isn’t really chosen in the sense that she’s messianic – but she does have a magical heritage and part of her journey is to discover what it all means.

In STUDENT BODIES, I’ve really ramped up the tension and raised the stakes. Julie now knows what her place in the world is supposed to be and there’s a threat to every person at her school. She must also balance our the normal teenage mother-daughter conflict in a way that doesn’t make her come off sounding like she’s a petulant teen. Because Julie, like it or not, needs her mother. Mom is her anchor and in this second book, she still has a lot to prove. Her mother also has to begin to let her daughter figure things out for herself – Mom’s challenge is every parent’s challenge: letting go.

Did I mention there’s a lot of ass-kicking going on in book two? Because, you know, there is. We’ve got new friendships – Twyla Standingready, an aboriginal magic slinger in her own right. If Julie’s going to solve the threat to everyone at her school, she’s going to need allies because the danger is very real, very dark and it gets very big very fast.

Marcus is still there, but even he’s not safe. Julie has to deal with the fact that her newfound role places her boyfriend in danger. She’s learning that even with her great power, she can’t always protect those who are closest to her, no matter how much she tries.

STUDENT BODIES is a dark, book. Where POLTERGEEKS was light, fluffy and thrilling, STUDENT BODIES deals with some very dark themes that make all the characters much more believable. There’s a ton of magic being thrown around throughout the book and an ending that I promise you simply won’t see coming.

Well, there you go. An ass-kicking teen witch, a threat to basically everyone at her school and the clock is ticking. Do get a kick out of STUDENT BODIES, won’t you?

About the Author:

Sean Cummings is a fantasy author with a penchant for writing quirky, humorous and dark novels featuring characters that are larger than life. His debut was the gritty urban fantasy SHADE FRIGHT published in 2010. He followed up later in the year with the sequel FUNERAL PALLOR. His urban fantasy/superhero thriller UNSEEN WORLD was published in 2011.

2012 saw the publication of Sean’s first urban fantasy for young adults. POLTERGEEKS is a rollicking story about teen witch Julie Richards, her dorky boyfriend and race against time to save her mother’s life. The first sequel, STUDENT BODIES is due for publication in September 2013.

Sean Cummings lives in Saskatoon Canada.
*Author Links*
 photo iconwebsite-32x32_zps1f477f69.png  photo icongoodreads32_zps60f83491.png  photo icontwitter-32x32_zpsae13e2b2.png

About the Book:

Student Bodies (Poltergeeks #2)
Release Date: 5 September 2013

Summary from Goodreads:
Whoever said being a teenage witch would be easy? For fifteen-year-old Julie Richardson and the city’s resident protector from supernatural evil, the Left Hand Path doesn't give a damn if you've found true love for the first time in your life. There’s someone lurking the halls of Crescent Ridge High School with enough malice to unleash an epidemic of Soul Worms – supernatural larvae that feed on the very fabric of a victim’s humanity.

After witnessing the death of one of the most popular kids at school, Julie and über genius boyfriend Marcus are in a race against time to find out who is behind the attacks. All the evidence points to a horrifying plot at the City Weir during the Winter Solstice; the place where icy waters of the Bow River and a thunderous spillway will mean the deaths of more than a hundred of Julie’s classmates.

If she has any hope of saving their lives, she’ll need a little help from a coven of white witches and an Aboriginal mage whose snarky attitude is matched only by her magical prowess.

GIVEAWAY
STUDENT BODIES GIVEAWAY:
UK Prize Pack
1 Signed Copy of STUDENT BODIES
1 Signed Copy of POLTERGEEKS
1 Signed Copy of FUNERAL PALLOR
1 Signed Copy of SHADE FRIGHT
1 Amazon Kindle

CANADA/US Prize Pack:
1 Signed Copy of STUDENT BODIES
1 Signed Copy of POLTERGEEKS
1 Signed Copy of FUNERAL PALLOR
1 Signed Copy of SHADE FRIGHT
1 Amazon Kindle

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Review: Student Bodies by Sean Cummings

Great follow-up to Poltergeeks: more sass, more action, more magic! 

I greatly enjoyed Poltergeeks, the first in this series and would absolutely recommend this title if you did too. If you haven't read it yet, stop here - this review has spoilers for that title (but not for Student Bodies).

The characters are again the key strength here for me: Sean Cummings really does know how to create realistic characters who interact and react in ways that we can easily relate to, even while they're involved in a full-on urban fantasy plots involving witches, evil spells and coven politics (yes, that is what I meant). It's clear from the tone of the writing and the emotional realism here that Sean is expert in understanding people, and that really is the heart of this successful series, I think. Yes, there's a cracking plot with plenty of action and some fabulously original ideas (look out for the ultra-creepy soul worms!), but none of that would work as well without the undercurrent of realism lent by the strongly-constructed characters.

As a development from Poltergeeks, this novel is brilliant. There is a complete story here, whilst the world-building and overall story arc is developed, so it doesn't have that flat feel that some 'second/middle of a series' books can. Julie's knowledge and understanding of her own powers and the magical world generally expand here, taking us along with her. Her relationship with Marcus has evolved since the start of the first book and this is a major subplot now, as her mother worries about his involvement in Julie's life as a witch. It's clear that there is more to learn about witchcraft generally, and about Julie's family history and her powers specifically (but not to the point where you feel like stuff is being artificially kept back for the next book), so I'm looking forward to the next instalment.

Overall, I'd absolutely recommend this as a strong urban fantasy which is a perfect example of how to continue a series.

Do come back on Friday for a guest post from Seah Cummings as part of his blog tour (for more on the tour, click the link top left).

Summary from Goodreads:

Whoever said being a teenage witch would be easy? For fifteen-year-old Julie Richardson and the city’s resident protector from supernatural evil, the Left Hand Path doesn't give a damn if you've found true love for the first time in your life. There’s someone lurking the halls of Crescent Ridge High School with enough malice to unleash an epidemic of Soul Worms – supernatural larvae that feed on the very fabric of a victim’s humanity.

After witnessing the death of one of the most popular kids at school, Julie and über genius boyfriend Marcus are in a race against time to find out who is behind the attacks. All the evidence points to a horrifying plot at the City Weir during the Winter Solstice; the place where icy waters of the Bow River and a thunderous spillway will mean the deaths of more than a hundred of Julie’s classmates.

If she has any hope of saving their lives, she’ll need a little help from a coven of white witches and an Aboriginal mage whose snarky attitude is matched only by her magical prowess.

***************
Publishing in September from Strange Chemistry
For more info, visit the author's website
My grateful thanks to the publisher for providing me with a review copy via NetGalley


Friday, 16 August 2013

Review: Soul Storm by Kate Harrison

Cracking conclusion to a YA suspense trilogy 

If you haven't read the first two books in this series, I'd suggest you stop here (and perhaps instead visit my review for book one, Soul Beach). I will not have spoilers in this review for this book, but cannot guarantee to be spoiler-free for the earlier parts of the story.

OK, so the stakes are raised, the suspects narrowed (thanks mainly to the killer having struck again and turning other suspects into victims), and Alice's determination to catch the guilty party heightened. Of course, at the same time, Alice's behaviour is looking more and more bizarre (particularly with a little help from the killer) and her parents' concern leads to tighter controls on her movements and her online time.

Where it all began...
I rate this book highly for its management of the suspense and the thriller angle of the plot. We know that Alice is in danger - reminded helpfully by the occasional creepy bit of narration from the killer's perspective - and, if you're anything like me, you'll have suspected practically everyone of killing Meggie before the final reveal. I'm pretty sure Alice is the only character I never suspected, and I was certainly wrong for most of this last book (not to mention certain of my choice - Kate Harrison certainly knows how to seed a red herring).

Book 2
I also enjoyed - through the whole series - the innovative concept of Soul Beach, where only the young and beautiful and 'before their time' dead hang out. I would have liked to see more exploration or explanation of exactly how that worked, but maybe it is best to leave some mystery and it is certainly true that this plot strand was moved on and developed in this instalment.

Overall, I would definitely recommend the series as a contemporary YA thriller with a hint of the paranormal. It kept me reading and I was rooting for Alice throughout. I envy those with the luxury of being able to read the whole series straight through, now that all three are available.

The publishers have been celebrating the publication of this book, along with James Dawson's Cruel Summer, under the hashtag #murderonthebeach. It's well worth checking out the blog tour posts and the twitter beach party if you want more info on this series and on Kate Harrison.

Cover blurb:

Someone is stalking Alice Forster. She's sure it's her sister's murderer, but her parents think she's cracking under the stress of Meggie's death. Only in the virtual world of Soul Beach - an online paradise for the young, the beautiful and the dead - can Alice feel truly free. But there's trouble in paradise . . .

Clouds are gathering.

A storm is brewing.

The killer is about to strike.

****************
Published 1 August 2013 by Indigo
More info at Goodreads
My grateful thanks to the publisher for sending a copy for review

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

#murderonthebeach Blog Tour: Deleted Scene from James Dawson's Cruel Summer

I hope you're ready for the awesomeness that is here today. James Dawson's Cruel Summer, out now from Indigo, is a fabulously tense tale of murder and friendship. I am so excited to be a part of this blog tour, celebrating both Cruel Summer and Kate Harrison's Soul Storm, wrapping up her fantastic Soul Beach trilogy.

CRUEL SUMMER – DELETED SCENE

In early drafts of Cruel Summer, Katie also had a narrative. It was felt, however, that it was more interesting if all of the novel was told from the point of view of the ‘sidekicks’. In most YA novels, Katie would be the main character, but Cruel Summer plays with that format. This scene still exists from Alisha’s point of view, but in this deleted scene we actually get to hear what Katie and Ben are saying.

Katie stared at the fire for what felt like hours. The roaring flames lost their will to fight, tiring to feeble tongues before dying to embers. They still glowed scarlet though, and they still gave heat. When she poked them with her stick, they flared up angrily, trying to spark. If she weren't so tired she’d have thought up some poetic analogy about them being like the dying fire, but she couldn't be bothered.

Most of the others had drifted back to the villa, blaming coldness or tiredness. Maybe it was all too much: the flight, the wine, the sun. Janey. Alisha remained on the other side of the ashes, playing with her camera. The pair sat in companionable silence.

The mood had lightened a little after the talk about Janey, but the elephant, although acknowledged, didn't go anywhere. Katie didn't feel any better for getting things out in the open. OK, they’d talked about it, but there was still so much left to say.

‘Hey,’ Alisha finally said. ‘I'm gonna get ready for bed.’

Katie nodded. ‘I’ll be in in a minute.’

‘You OK out here by yourself?’

‘Yeah. I like the quiet.’

Alisha walked over and gave her a kiss on the head. It was a reminder of how close they’d been once upon a time, but Katie wasn't sure anymore. The gesture felt awkward. It was like Janey had been the stitching holding them together, after she jumped, everyone fell apart, tumbling miles apart in different directions.

Alisha's flip flops clattered up the stairs towards the villa and she was alone with the tide and the embers. Katie closed her eyes. Still noisy in her head, but quiet on the beach. Things would seem better in the morning. They always did.

Without needing to open her eyes, she became aware of someone approaching. She opened them to see Ben’s silhouette amble onto the sand. She’d recognise his walk anywhere. ‘Hey.’

‘Hey.’ She tried to think of something cute or funny to say. There was nothing. This was painful – she hated not being able to banter with him.

‘I just wanted to come and make sure you were OK. You went pretty quiet.’

She looked up at him. With nothing to say, she just shook her head. If she opened her mouth, she was pretty sure a sob would find its way out. Ben sat alongside her, their shoulders touching this time. Unsure of himself, his arm hovered for a moment, like he was scared something might bite it. But as soon as his hand made contact with her arm, it all made sense and he pulled her into an embrace.

She rested her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes. He was so warm and so soft. He still used the same washing powder. Katie buried her head in his t-shirt. It was all the same – a familiar feeling blossomed inside her chest. It was the same as it had been, and it was unique to him. She loved other things and other people but no-one else made her feel exactly like this. It was Ben-love.

A flock of what ifs flew into her mind. What if they’d never split up? What if he’d never gone out with Janey?

His stubble grazed the top of her forehead. His skin on her skin was too much to stand. She opened her eyes to find Janey sat on the other side of the fire, watching them. Not as she had been, but as she was. A drowned girl. White, dead eyes. Bloated cheeks. Grey-blue skin. Katie recoiled, but the vision had gone.

‘What?’

‘We can’t do this, Ben.’

‘Can’t do what? We weren't doing anything wrong.’

Katie stood and started back towards the villa. She held her arms close to her body like a shield. Turning to face him, she said, ‘Ben, we can fancy this shit up as much as we like. What happened to Jane was our fault. You and me.’

‘Katie, it wasn't. We have to stop blaming ourselves. We have to let it go.’

Katie shook her head. ‘We don’t have that right. We don’t deserve it.’ She ran up the stairs to the villa and didn't look back to see the hurt on his face.

**********
Wow! Thank you so much, James, for this peek into the earlier life of the novel. If you haven't already read Cruel Summer and this has whetted your appetite, do not delay - the blogosphere is raving over this one with good reason. Check out all the other fun with the hashtag #murderonthebeach, including many more fascinating blog posts and a fab Twitter Q&A with both authors.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Review: Girls, Goddesses and Giants by Lari Don

Brilliant collection of folk tales, legends and myths with active heroines 

Firstly, I have to comment on this gorgeous cover! Bold and strong, showing a silhouetted girl in action with a sword and decorated with dragon and pretty flowers, it's wonderfully attractive without playing to cloying stereotypes of femininity (for little girls). What a great job! And, as you might guess, this is absolutely the theme for the collection: bold, clever, resourceful and active girls taking charge and saving the day. It's the perfect antidote to the many pink and princessy collections out there.

The book features twelve stories, each from a different culture and all focusing on the actions of a central girl character. The stories themselves are quite short, and nicely illustrated with occasional bold silhouettes. The print is quite large, too, so the stories are not daunting for young readers. The book is perfect for bedtime reading to or with a child, and its cover and style make it likely to appeal to boys as well as girls.

There are mythical monsters and creatures of folklore to be defeated or outwitted, challenges to be met and prejudice to be ignored. Lari Don has done a great job in sourcing and retelling these tales. The narrative style is warm and friendly, well suited to reading aloud, and with perfectly judged pace and tension for the target age group (younger readers and pre-readers).

Overall, I would absolutely recommend this. As a beautiful hardback with dustjacket, it would make a lovely gift.

The cover blurb says:

Greedy giants. Unjust emperors. Shape-shifting demons. And the heroines who deal with them.

From China and Japan, the Americas, Europe and Africa, this collection of traditional tales shows girls who win the day, whether by cleverness, courage, kindness or strength. Who needs a handsome prince?

*************
Published 18 July 2013 by A & C Black
Find more info at the publisher's website
My grateful thanks to the publisher for sending me a review copy

Friday, 9 August 2013

Review: The Night Itself by Zoe Marriott

Fabulous urban fantasy YA fusing Japanese folklore and contemporary UK setting

This novel is beautifully constructed and grabbed me right from the start. Zoe Marriott has really nailed everything about this book. It's the perfect opener for a trilogy: sets up a truly epic battle whilst still having a complete and resolved story arc in this instalment. It's also a skilful urban fantasy, bringing fantasy elements to life in a fully realistic contemporary UK setting.

That realistic setting is one of the novel's core strengths. There is a quirkiness (but not too studied or false a quirkiness) to many aspects of this novel which made me smile many times while reading. And, as a language geek (forgive me, it's my thing), I noticed the voice and tone of narration and the dialogue, all of which completely ring true for contemporary UK teens. The fantasy elements are pretty unusual and make a lot of demands on the reader (and characters!) in terms of suspension-of-disbelief, so the novel's realism for the 'urban' side is essential.

Talking about the characters - they are all brilliant. I wanted to say I loved them all, but please don't misunderstand me: I loved the solidity of them, their construction as characters. Trust me, the baddies are plenty bad enough to not be 'loved'! Again, the author's ear for dialogue helps a lot here, and Mio's voice as narrator is an easy shortcut into her mind, enabling us to easily be fully on her side. I loved Jack! I bet Jack (Jacqueline is her 'trouble name') has the affection of many readers. I loved that once Mio starts revealing a little of the fantasy side of the story, Jack pulls her up on it, not doing the sappy sidekick thing of dumbly accepting anything her mate tells her. I also love that she's a lesbian and that this isn't 'a thing' (and agonised about mentioning it, since that undoes the coolness of her existence without fuss, but I do think it's a plus point even while wishing it wasn't rare enough to merit mention). I apologise for the clumsiness of that sentence, but it expresses a clumsy emotion.

Plot-wise, the book is strong again (I told you it did everything right!). Things move along at a good pace for an action-type fantasy, and there was tension and danger aplenty. The trilogy centres on Mio's sword, so you can be sure there are plenty of fight scenes and risk to life and limb. At the same time, a romance subplot is bubbling up and clearly sowing seeds to be developed later in the trilogy. The key ingredients of a great urban fantasy are all here.

There is so much to rave about in this book. It's definitely a contender for my top books of the year. Strongly recommended.

From the blurb:

When fifteen-year-old Mio steals the katana – her grandfather’s priceless sword – she just wants to liven up a fancy-dress costume. But the katana is more than some dusty heirloom, and her actions unleash an ancient evil onto the streets of modern-day London.

Mio is soon stalked by the terrors of mythical Japan and it is only the appearance of a mysterious warrior that saves her life. If Mio cannot learn to control the katana’s legendary powers, she will lose not only her life … but the love of a lifetime.

***************
Published July 2013 by Walker Books
Find more info and an extract at the publisher's website
My grateful thanks to the publisher for sending a proof for review

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Stress and anxiety: my top five tips for coping

You may not want to take advice from someone who regularly struggles, but then again, I struggle and I'm still here so maybe I do know something about it :)

Here are my top five tips:

  • Don't neglect yourself. You may be busy and annoyed with yourself for 'wasting time' by worrying, fretting or endlessly googling worst-case-scenarios (or maybe that's just me...), but you still need the time to calm down and look after yourself. Clearly, in fact, you need that time more than when you're not in an anxiety spiral. A walk, a jog, a hot bath - whatever does it for you, allow yourself that time. I would also recommend the positive to-do list, which we used last summer holidays to great effect. Basically, you make a list of things you want to do (kind of like a bucket list, or a before-a-certain-age list) to remind you when you're at a loose end or have some spare time/cash to play with.
  • Complementary therapies. As mentioned here before, I love aromatherapy (I have citrus and spice oils on my pulse points to help me focus), but I have also benefited from nice calming herbal tea (chamomile and spiced apple is a favourite) and creative visualisation (pushing worries into a box which you then lock up can be helpful, as well as the old 'happy place').
  • Break down your to-do list. Yes, this will make it longer, but it also allows you to cross off a bit at a time of a big job. For example, with a recent writing job, I've made a massive grid listing the sub-topics I'm covering with columns for each labelled 'planned', 'started', 'drafted', 'revised, 'submitted', 'feedback received' etc. Don't snigger; it helps and it's clearly not fully obsessive as it isn't colour-coded :)
  • Use a timer. I generally work in 15 minute chunks, although often I'm resetting the timer for another 15 minutes once I've got going. Just committing to 15 minutes at a time really does work.
  • Try a gratitude practice. I know, I know, but it really is very encouraging to think about all the reasons you have to be grateful. I also use this basic positive statement idea to remind myself of past accomplishments when I'm busy freaking out that I can't do what I've set out to do. (Don't tell anyone, but sometimes an "I know I can do this because..." list is stuck up above my desk, including examples of things I've done and should be proud of and nice things people have said/emailed to me like positive comments on my work. I know, but sometimes I need these reminders.)

Monday, 5 August 2013

Review: Birthday Wishes (Magic Trix 3) by Sara Grant

Another charming story about the trainee witch 


I love these little books! Pitched at the 5-8 crowd, but perfectly enjoyable for older readers too :), they capture all the magic and charm I remember from my own childhood reads such as Enid Blyton and Jill Murphy.

In this instalment, Trix is desperately hoping that her best friend Holly, whose tenth birthday is coming up, will learn that she too is a witch. At the same time, there are new witchly skills to learn and more trouble from the less-than-nice Stella. Another thing I appreciate about these books is that they are also about friendship, with good models for young readers without a whiff of preachiness.

Trix is a great main character. She's not perfect, but she is good and kind and tries hard. She's easy for young readers to both like and look up to. I also love her familiar, Jinx the visible-only-to-witches cat. He is so sweet and it's a real bonus that some sections are narrated from his point of view - a real stroke of genius!

If you have an under-10-year-old around, I'd definitely recommend this series. Or, you know, for yourself if you're a kidlit reader :)

See my reviews of the earlier books in the series: The Witching Hour and Flying High

From the blurb:

The three signs that you may be a witch...

* You occasionally see witches flying across the midnight sky on their broomsticks.

* Rhyming spells pop into your head at the drop of a (witch's) hat!

* You love planning magical surprises for your friends.

Parties and potions. Secrets and surprises!

Witch-in-training, Trix Morgan, is planning a surprise birthday party for her best friend, Holly. But nothing goes according to plan - especially when mean-girl Stella adds a secret ingredient to Trix's magic potion...

************
Published May 2013 by Orion Children's Books
Find it on Goodreads
My grateful thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy

Friday, 2 August 2013

Review: The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker

Spellbinding in execution and epic in scope: a beautiful book to savour. 

This novel combines two different folklore traditions into a narrative about immigration and finding one's place. Through exploring the very different experiences of a masterless golem and a djinni bound in human form, this lyrical and intelligent novel questions what it means to be human. Set in New York in 1899, Helene Wecker uses the two folkloric creatures to probe questions of fitting in and relating to others.

I thoroughly enjoyed this and recommend it to readers of fantasy but also those who enjoy contemporary literary novels. Comparisons to Susanna Clarke's fabulous Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell are justified (although this is both shorter in length and perhaps smaller in scope).

The writing is superb. The story is narrated in the third person, which allows us access to various characters' perspectives. Although both title characters do have negative qualities (from a human perspective), and both make mistakes, they both have our sympathies for at least part of the narrative, thanks to this close access to them. The narrative also sweeps through time and space, encompassing various characters' past experiences, enabling us to see where people have come from.

The plot itself centres on the Golem and Djinni's attempts to live without drawing undue attention to themselves - or going mad from the pressures upon them. Imagine if you didn't need to sleep? How would you fill the nighttimes? Details such as this are what drive the plot to its eventual crisis point. There are parts where the pace is a little slow, but the gorgeous writing and skilful character development make up for this. Overall, this is definitely a book to lose yourself in.

From the publishers' blurb:

If you were bewitched by The Night Circus… If you were mesmerised by A Discovery of Witches… If you were enthralled by Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell… You will be enchanted by THE GOLEM & THE DJINNI

Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic. When her master, the husband who commissioned her, dies at sea on the voyage from Poland, she is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York in 1899.

Ahmad is a djinni, a being of fire, born in the ancient Syrian desert. Trapped in an old copper flask by a Bedouin wizard centuries ago, he is released accidentally by a tinsmith in a Lower Manhattan shop. Though he is no longer imprisoned, Ahmad is not entirely free – an unbreakable band of iron binds him to the physical world.

The Golem & The Djinni is their magical, unforgettable story; unlikely friends whose tenuous attachment challenges their opposing natures – until the night a terrifying incident drives them back into their separate worlds. But a powerful threat will soon bring Chava and Ahmad together again, challenging their existence and forcing them to make a fateful choice.

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The Golem and the Djinni will be published by Blue Door on 15 August
My grateful thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy via lovereading.co.uk

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