Gaslight by Eloise Williams

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It isn’t every book that wins the whippet seal of approval, you know.

” My mother disappeared on the sixth of September, 1894.

I was found at the docks in Cardiff, lying like a gutted fish at the water’s edge.”

And so starts an intriguing prologue that leads us into Nansi Howell’s life.

Nansi

In chapter one, we find Nansi five years older and in the dubious “care” of Sid who runs a theatre along with other less salubrious ventures. Under Sid’s control, she has learned to take on other identities as both an actor and a thief. Still, Nansi is determined to hold on to her hopes and dreams doing what she can to uncover any clues as to where her mother might be.

Then the arrival of two new theatre acts have an impact on Nansi’s life that means things will never be the same again. Readers aged nine years plus will thrill at being plunged into Eloise Williams’ tale of Victorian Cardiff. Nansi is a character to take to the heart and one who children will find a great empathy for. Gaslight is full of surprises and as good an adventure as you could possibly want and as I’ve come to expect from Firefly Press who consistently publish amazing children’s literature. And look at that cover! Isn’t it just beautiful?

Gaslight

I’ve been looking forward to reading Gaslight for a long time and now I’ve finished it the one thing that strikes me as amazing is the amount of heart and drama Eloise Williams has created in less than 200 pages.  There’s huge depth of story and as I read, I felt like Gaslight functioned as an ink and paper time machine, with surroundings as real as you would wish for. This is exactly what makes me want to share it in class: to see the response from children to not only a cracking adventure plot, but also to the wider picture of Nansi’s life. I fully anticipate mass gasping and holding of breath and hands raised with questions that just can’t wait. I’m pretty convinced Gaslight is one of those books that keeps kids glued even after the home-time bell has rung. I’m looking forward to finding out!

Gaslight: a vivid and breath-taking piece of story-telling brilliance.


The Secret of Nightingale Wood by Lucy Strange

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” I stared into the dark mass of trees ahead, and my imagination ambushed me with nightmarish creatures- slavering wolves, whispering tree-demons, long-fingered witches… Every part of me was alive with fear now- my fingers, my skin, my lungs…

And then a sudden, desperate shriek pierced the night like a needle.

I froze. An owl? But it sounded almost human…

I turned back to look at the house- and stifled a scream.”

Hope House

It’s 1919 and twelve year old Henrietta Abbott (Henry) and her family have just moved to Hope House. Her brother Robert’s recent death has caused deep grief for all that knew him and through Henry we see the repercussions. Mama becomes ill, Father leaves indefinitely to work abroad but Henry remains with baby sister ‘Piglet’ in the care of Nanny Jane and Mrs Berry the cook. Mama’s getting no better and Henry has a bad feeling about Doctor Hardy, who seems to have a plan all of his own in regards to her remaining family…

Nightingale Wood

As she watches and listens, Henry begins to unveil the secrets of Nightingale Wood and Hope House- but sometimes your mind can play tricks on you. Is she seeing shadows of the past or things as they really are? Prepare for a storytelling masterpiece. The quote I’ve included above illustrates this perfectly: for writing to take you into the woods at night then reveal that the home you’ve come from is the source of the fear you’ve been expecting is a brilliant way of playing with narration. As for Henry, she’s a delight. A strong spirit with the ability to learn from her own  misconceptions. A heroic soul.

Everything you’ve heard about The Secret of Nightingale Wood is true: it’s completely as wonderful as they say it is. Suitable for readers aged nine years plus but I’d recommend it equally to adults as children, I have to say. I enjoyed the intertextuality throughout the story, and the relationship Lucy Strange creates between The Secret of Nightingale Wood and children’s books that Henry would have enjoyed at the time. Young independent readers will have the extra pleasure of being able to explore Henry’s favourite writers as she mentions them in the text. I think this is just wonderful- what a way to continue getting to know a character!

Utterly Gorgeous!

This is historical fiction with a pinch of psychological thriller, enticing and captivating. I was torn between greedily rushing to discover the outcome and taking my time over some of the most gorgeous prose I’ve read in ever such a long time. It was a good problem to have! The Secret of Nightingale Wood is an utterly gorgeous book.


Strange Star by Emma Carroll

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strange-star

Strange Star

It’s a gloomy old Saturday here in the West Mids and I’m wishing I was still reading Strange Star by Emma Carroll. If you haven’t already, I’d get yourselves a copy forthwith and settle in for some deliciously extraordinary happenings.

Lake Geneva, June 1816

At The Vila Diodati, Lord Byron is planning an evening of ghost stories with friends. His servant Felix has been sent to deliver the invitations to Mr and Mrs Shelley and Miss Clairmont who are staying nearby. The weather is unseasonable for June to say the least and the servants are discussing it:

” ‘It’s the comet causing all this queer weather,’ Frau Moritz said over her shoulder. ‘Comets are a bad omen. Always have been, always will be.’

Yet that didn’t explain why it was still cold, still stormy, even when the comet had nearly disappeared. “

A strange star indeed.

Lizzie Appleby

As preparations are made for the evening, a storm rolls over Lake Geneva, bringing early darkness. The stories begin but are interrupted by an apparent sighting of someone at the window and then by a loud knock at the door. The anticipation of ‘something’ is brilliant; the best I’ve read since my first encounter with The Turn of the Screw. Then it gets even more intriguing.

Felix opens the door to find a young girl, covered in scars and apparently dead. After trying to resuscitate her, the party abandons hope and drifts away- that is except for Felix and Mary Shelley who refuse to give up thankfully. The girl is Lizzie Appleby and she has an urgent story to tell: one that will both captivate you and chill you to the bone…

Honestly, I could just go on and on about Strange Star; I’ve already hit my ‘recommended word count’ for a blog post and don’t feel like I’ve even begun to do it justice.

So, What Do You Need to Know?

I can’t put you through several thousand words though, so what do you need to know?

Well, that it’s entirely suitable for children aged 10 years plus but still managed to spook me very satisfactorily. It’s also a masterclass in how to bring a scene to life: there’s this bit on a hillside in a snowstorm and another in a tunnel later on and I’m telling you, you will be so present you’ll feel the sting of the snow and taste the mustiness of the damp earth around you. You also need to know that it’s heavily bound up with Mary Shelley, Frankenstein and enough real-life elements to make you question what really happened and who really existed. And it’s oh so very good at it. Strange Star will also encourage further reading and further exploration of literature, of that I’m sure.

Great for fans of historical fiction and absolutely one of my favourite reads this year. More of this please.

 

 


The Great Chocoplot by Chris Callaghan

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Extra credit goes to those who can see the whippet's nose in this picture. Chocolate & dogs shouldn't really mix...

Extra credit goes to those who can see the whippet’s nose in this picture. Well spotted!

” ‘In six days there will be no more chocolate in the world…ever!’

That’s what it said on The Seven Show.

Jelly had nearly reached the next level of Zombie Puppy Dash, but hearing this made her plunge the pink puppy into a huge tank of zombie dog food.”

The Great Chocoplot

The Great Chocoplot by Chris Callaghan is a real winner for children seven years plus who like their stories on the lively side.

Both truly funny and imaginatively written, it’s going to tick the boxes for so many readers out there, and maybe even create a few new ones. This is another example of the kind of cracking (sorry) books coming from Chicken House at the minute and if you haven’t already, you should check out their range. Immediately. Well, in a minute.

Chocopocalypse!

After the announcement on The Seven Show that the chocopocalypse is quickly approaching, Jelly (yes I know, it is an awesome name isn’t it?) and her Gran put their heads together to try and get to the bottom of it. Obviously, plot-wise, there aren’t many things as potentially devastating as no more chocolate ever, but with Gran and Jelly on our side we unravel a wonderful mystery of global impact played out with local heart.

We take Jelly to our hearts straight away. On the surface she’s a regular girl from an ordinary family living in a normal town just like yours, but we all know really that there’s no such thing as ‘average’ or ‘ordinary’ and everyone is unique and special. Jelly is sparky, clever and a joy to read about.

Shout Out to all the Grandparents

A big shout out has to go to Gran: a caravan-dwelling, headphone-wearing, scientific icon for our times in my opinion, and Jelly loves her. I also loved Grandad, who we don’t meet as he is no longer with us, but who is described in such a beautiful way. I like this. It’s a little detail that will mean a lot to a lot of children.

Kids who’ve previously enjoyed the stories of Frank Cottrell-Boyce, Roald Dahl and David Walliams are going to click with The Great Chocoplot straight away; others will be drawn in by Sandra Navarro’s fabulous cover and will stay for the ride. A true Books-a-Go-Go book of glory and a feast of fun for young ‘uns everywhere!

 


Cogheart by Peter Bunzl

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cogheart done

” Another harpoon smashed through Dragonfly’s hull, and whirring saw blades cut through the steel ribs, ripping cracks in the ships tin chest. In a jagged screech, the cracks were wrenched into a doorway, and two silhouetted figures appeared. Their silver eyes glinted in the light. The thinner of the figures raised a stick with a skull handle, then John felt a blinding shaft of pain, and everything went black…”

Breath-Taking

When Lily’s father John Hartman disappears following a terrible crash in his airship, it quickly becomes clear that not all those around her have her best interests at heart. John, a famous inventor, has it seems attracted the attention of some very unsavoury people who are closing in on her, hellbent on finding something of her dad’s- but what?

Lily is plunged into a completely different world. Thank goodness she has new friend Robert, son of the local clockmaker, and also dear Malkin, a mechanical fox made for her by her father, there by her side in this breath-taking and original adventure.

Thrilling

Cogheart, suitable for children of ten years plus, is a steam-powered triumph, an ingenious and fresh take on adventuring in Victorian England. Readers should get ready for danger and imminent peril in a world of automatons and airships. Think Christmas Day Doctor Who special, only much, much better, as Bunzl’s beautiful writing is as soulful as it is thrilling. I must admit to experiencing the full emotional rollercoaster here, and along with some fairly hefty breath holding, I might have got something in my eye once or twice whilst reading…

Fantastic New Voice

Both heroes and villains make Cogheart a really special book. The villains, especially Roach and Mould, are every bit as terrifying as you’d want them to be. Lily is easy to root for: brave, spirited and happily very much a young girl. Robert, I love. He’s so human and normal, completely real and every bit a hero. Malkin: well he’s a mechanical fox. This is an addition of great glory that leaves me wondering why children’s literature hasn’t given us one of these sooner? For this Peter Bunzl, I thank you enormously.

Cogheart by Peter Bunzl introduces a fantastic new voice for children’s literature, up there with M.G Leonard’s Beetle Boy and joining other great story tellers such as Neil Gaiman and Philip Pullman. Check it out now and love it forever.