So I blinked and June is now upon us, this year is just flying past! After being heads down for most of the year there has been a slight breather which has happily coincided with the half-term holidays. There are so many wonderful books sitting in my to be read pile so it was really tricky to choose which books I should share with you but these were the ones that caught my eye.
A new book from Emma Carroll is always a highlight in my literary year, so when an early copy of ‘The Week at World’s End,’ dropped through my letterbox I had to abandon everything and read it straight away. Set against the background of the Cuban Missile Crisis when the end of the world seemed like it was within touching distance, Stevie finds a runaway girl hiding in her coal shed. The girl is desperate for help claiming someone is trying to poison her and Stevie – along with her best friend Ray -can’t resist the chance to have some excitement in their lives. But Anna’s increasingly strange behaviour unsettles Stevie, she knows that she isn’t being completely honest with them. The discovery of a dark family secret convinces Stevie that Anna has come to World’s End Close for a purpose. With time ticking away can she uncover the truth before it’s too late? This story is Emma at her finest. Exquisite storytelling brought to life with rich period detail and glorious characterisation. She captures all the tension of the escalation of the Cold War brilliantly, at times the tension is almost unbearable, it took my breath away. Emma has this incredible talent for bringing history to life, allowing the reader to be completely transported to a different time of place. It tackles some incredibly poignant themes including feminism, racism and loss, in a thoughtful and unsentimental way. I was gripped from start to finish, this book is an absolute triumph and I absolutely loved it!
I’ve been a huge fan of Phil’s writing for many years. He has an incredible talent for finding stories wherever he goes, hidden behind doors in the Storey Street series, in the ‘Mind the Gap,’ announcement on the London Underground and now in the extraordinary, ‘When the Sky Falls,’ he was inspired by a real life story about a friend’s dad during WW2. We are familiar with stories where children are sent away to the country to escape the threat of bombing but here we meet Joseph, a boy who has been sent to the very heart of the War. He has been sent to live with a woman, Mrs F, who has no time for children and is simply repaying a debt by looking after him. The only thing she loves is her rundown zoo and its former star attraction, Adonis, the silverback gorilla. Joseph is initially terrified of this ‘beast,’ but the more time he spends with him, he forges a bond. But with the bombers getting closer can they make a terrible decision to save others from a horrific fact? I was completely overwhelmed by the characterisation in this story, the anger that Joseph can’t contain pours out of the pages, contrasting with the hidden vulnerability and pain of Mrs F. On the face of it they have little in common, yet they are both struggling to come to terms with grief in their own ways. Set against the background of intense bombing, destruction and loss this exacerbates their feelings building up the tension to a dramatic climax. There are not enough words to do justice to how much I loved, ‘When the Sky Falls.’ All I can say is that it’s raw, powerful, beautiful and poignant, one of the most accomplished books I’ve read in a long time.
I’m completely fascinated by the 1920s, a period of time when the world was emerging from a long period of war, life seemed full of optimism and change was in the air. in the first instalment of ‘The House of Serendipity,’ series, Lucy introduces us to two very different girls, Sylvia Cartwright a rich socialite who feels suffocated by her destiny and Myrtle Mathers who is forced into service after the death of her father, giving up her dreams. Both girls come from very different worlds but are brought together by their shared love of fashion and their dazzling designs become the talk of London. But their friendship is threatened when they agree to help a glamorous debutante escape, can this scandal crush their dreams forever? I absolutely adored ‘Sequins and Secrets,’ it was completely dreamy, rich in period detail and the characterisation is sublime. Sylvia and Myrtle make for an unlikely but inspired pairing and you can’t help but be swept away by their seeming success. I loved the attention to the detail in the intricate descriptions of their creations, beautifully brought to life by Catharine’s stunning illustrations. Daring, dramatic and utterly delicious it truly captured the essence of this period of time.
Charlotte’s debut novel, ‘We Won an Island,’ was a wonderfully uplifting read that filled my heart with joy. It was with much anticipation that I dived into the follow-up, ‘We Made a Movie,’ and I’m pleased to say it didn’t disappoint. Life has settled down for Luna and her family, her dad is embracing their new life, while her mum’s experimental yoga classes are causing lots of interest. But when developers threaten their dream, Luna is determined to find a way to save Wishnook. Her plan to make a movie to showcase it’s uniqueness is scuppered by bitter rivalries as the residents become divided. Is this the end of the road for Luna and her family? Pure escapism at its best, it was an absolute treat to return to this world. There are so many brilliant moments filled with chaos, confusion and downright quirkiness which will entertain and amuse younger readers. Charlotte deftly mixes humour and heart in the lively and entertaining romp of an adventure whilst thoughtfully exploring the decline in rural communities and the threat of overdevelopment. This is an irresistible and charming story which I completely devoured in one sitting. A must have summer read!
Ewa has a gift for creating stories that are warm and entertaining but have so many hidden layers waiting to be discovered. in ‘The Cooking Club Detectives,’ she assembles an intriguing cast of characters who on the face of it have nothing in common. Ewa is worrying about money after her mum is made redundant, while Tanya lives a privileged life with her own housekeeper and a wealthy dad. A firm friendship is forged when Ewa convinces Tanya to join an after-school cooking club at the local community centre where they meet Frixos and Sam. When they discover that the centre is to be sold, the friends, the newly named Cooking Club Detectives set off on a mission to discover the identity of the new owner, convinced they can change their minds! This story shines a spotlight on the vital roles places like Skipton House play in the community, from the very basics of making sure that families are fed, to enriching their lives with activities and opportunities that they might not have without it. Without these places people risk being forgotten about and becoming isolated, facing hardships alone. It highlights the importance of family, friendship and realising that it’s never to late to embrace your dream even when it seems impossible Brimming with warmth and filled with heart, it is a joyful and life affirming tale that entirely charmed me.
When I first heard about, ‘How to be Brave,’ I knew immediately it would be just my cup of tea, as Calla’s mum has a passion for ducks (you did read that right, I did say ducks), I have a complete obsession with boarding school stories and mysteries, this story delivers these both brilliantly. Calla has never had what you would call a normal existence, she’s spent most of her childhood parenting her mother and when her mum’s dream job offer arrives, she finds herself packed off to a very unusual boarding school run by nuns, which has a more practical than educational curriculum. But something very strange is going on at the school. The headteacher has been usurped, there are strange men in suits patrolling the grounds and they’re forcing the girls to drink kale smoothies – quelle horreur! Things go from bad to worse when Calla’s mum disappears off grid and Calla uncovers a terrible plot, together with her new friends the eccentric but marvellous Edie and Hanna she must find a way to thwart their dastardly headmistress. A truly extravagant romp of an adventure that is bound to delight and entertain readers with it’s terribly bad behaviour and wonderful characters. Despite the contemporary setting, it has (and I mean this in the very best way) an old fashioned charm that really endeared me to the story. It was totally irresistible with it s midnight feasts, hidden passageways and pranks all produced with a very modern and humorous twist. Original and quirky, this is simply wonderful.
Thank you to Andersen Press, Faber, Nosy Crow, Pushkin Press, Usborne and Zephyr for sending me gifted copies. All of these books are available to buy or pre-order online by clicking on the the title. If you can please support your local independent bookshop you can find your nearest one here.