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The Braid – Laetitia Colombani

A review from our Rogan’s Reviewer Claudia for a grown up novel.

The Braid follows the lives of three women separated by class, religion, profession and continent. While they are so different they do share a few things in common; independence, determination and a drive for a better future.

Smita, a low caste Dalit, seeks an education for her only daughter to pull her out of a life of poverty and service. Guila, a young Sicilian faced with misfortune and tragedy, and inspired by a surprising idea, fights convention and entrenched tradition. Sarah, with a successful career and children, is blindsided by a change of events, causing her to examine all she values in life. 

The book follows the life changing challenges the three women face, and how each of them overcomes very different but deeply entrenched societal views of women’s roles in society and the home. 
I found the story hard to read at times because I became very fond of the characters and their aspirations for themselves and their families. Despite the book being split into alternating chapters for each character, the flow of each story isn’t lost and it is easy to follow. I really enjoyed it!

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The Rapture – Claire McGlasson

This book is a meticulously researched and historically immersive novel. It follows Dilys an (initially) loyal member of a cult, led by the fanatical Octavia, self proclaimed Daughter of God. Their beliefs follow a century old legend that a prophet, Joanna Southcott sealed instructions in a wooden box to be opened when end times were upon us. The box could only be opened by 12 bishops Octavia’s cult of ladies believed it had to be opened by the bishops in the site of the Garden of Eden. (In Bedford, duh). The Panacea Society believed themselves to be guardians of the box and gatekeepers of the new Eden. Octavia’s increasingly eccentric habits, rules, and rituals lead to tension and excitements…..

The Panacea Society were already fascinating, with what some would consider to be nonsensical far-fetched beliefs, but this novel succeeds in weaving them into a narrative that not only makes sense but has a clear journey and end point. It also has bigger things to say about the interwar period. As a local to Bedford it really helps to be able to visualise the inside of the society, which perhaps led to me losing some focus in certain expositionary parts of the book.

The surprise for me, was the in depth exploration of mental health and sexuality through the main character. Dilys is real, compelling and easy to root for, and the sense of tension when she tries to assert a level of independence against authority is palpable. Your breath catches as she hides in an attic room or steals a moment with her lover in a sacred ceremonial space.

The author Claire McGlasson inside the real Panacea Society museum

The tension builds throughout until a cult enforced trial provides a thrilling event to frame the final descent into chaos for many of the characters. The ending will stay with you long after finishing too. I defy anyone who doesn’t already know the Panacea not to google the Society or have an urge to come to Bedford after reading it.

With interesting things to say about religion and its effects on people, the books strength is how mesmerising it is to seeing how any humans react to belief and power.

A very assured debut, and we look forward to the next one!

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Malamander – Thomas Taylor

A creepy atmospheric tale for 8-12 year olds.

Set during the off season of a seaside town, it tells the delightfully odd tale of Herbie Lemon a Lost and Found specialist in the local hotel in Eerie-On-Sea. He has a mysterious back story (for book 2 I hope!!).

His ordered world is turned upside down when Violet Parma arrives with a special case, her parents were lost and she wants them found.

Set against the backdrop of a museum with bizarre exhibits, a book dispensary where a mysterious mechanical musical statue dispenses not the book you want or know, but the one you need.

The writing is sharp and action packed and the characters are dynamic and driven. You will attach to them, and find yourself wanting to visit – in winter of course.

Excellent stuff, can’t wait to see the further adventures of Lemon and Parma…

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The Weight of a Thousand Feathers – Brian Conaghan

This book is important. Bobby Seed is a 17 year old who’s not keen on school. He is a carer for his mum who has MS. He has a brother called Danny who is 14 going on 10, who has developmental and social needs they’ve never felt the need to diagnose or categorise. His best friend Bel is sarky, tough and has just a complex a home life.

Bobbys mother declines over the course of his book, and his world expands as he is cajoled into joining a young Carers Group, including a mysterious handsome boy called Lou.

That’s the plot. This book is about the voice. It has a clear, authentic voice, with spectacular characterisation. Booby becomes a loving breathing young adult. It perfectly captures the feelings of a young carer, despair and joy. There is a brilliant sibling relationship, beautifully realised. Bel is the teenage friend we all had or wanted. The burgeoning relationship with Danny and Lou is tentative and rings true, until something truly shocking arises.

The central moral question is tough, and the unrelenting nature of their Mum’s condition is brutal. Despite finding the humour in life this will bring you to tears. This is the more emotional end of the YA market, with concepts of parental loss, euthanasia and trauma.

This book is a rare in teen fiction in that it speaks to boys, and for this reviewer the experience of being gay as well. Not in a dramatic coming out sense, but in just taking those first steps.

Amazing. Tough. Sweary. Essential.

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Starfell: Willow Moss and the Lost Day – Dominique Valente

May 2nd sees the release of one of Rogan’s Books most anticipated junior reader books so far this year. Starfell is the first in (hopefully) a long series of books set in a magical world full of witches and exciting funny creatures. We first read this back in November last year, with no cover picture or illustrations and we knew it would be special.

We think every character is gorgeously named, from the endearing Essential Jones to the unfortunate Calamity Troll, Feathering the Dragon and the ever unsteady Nolan Sometimes. Best of all is Oswin. Who is a monster. And DEFINITELY not a cat.

It’s a vividly imagined whimsical adventure with action, drama and very funny puns, ending with a literal, then emotional bang. Young readers will adore this new world packed with invention, and will come away spellbound.

We can’t wait for everyone else to have a read. In January we got our hands on a proof copy for review, and our lovely reviewer, Emma (10) has written a brilliant piece for us all.

Young Willow finds herself going on an unpredictable adventure with evil and mystery around every corner. She must travel afar with Moreg Vaine (a powerful witch who is known to eat children with pickled ginger!) to find out who took the missing day and why? (like who would want Tuesday for their collection). 

She meets a wide range of people, creatures, and a bloodthirsty dragon who isn’t really bloodthirsty! From flying brooms to hilarious dragons, this book has bucketfuls of laughs, A few handfuls of adventure and a pinch of mystery! 

My personal favourite character was Feathering. He was amusing, fun and just a pleasure to read about. He is rather silly, a bit like every humorous character every book just needs to have. But behind all his silliness he has a heartbreaking tale, about an egg  that didn’t hatch. It made me cry, it was that sad! 

You could of asked a thousand authors to tell this story, but none would have told it better than Dominique Valente. Dominique has a real talent, Starfell is nothing like any book that I’ve ever read, and that is what makes the book exciting. If Dominique had a secret magic power, it would probably be the power to write witty and unpredictable books!! I cannot wait to see what she comes up with next!

5 stars!

Thanks Emma!

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Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

This book follows our heroine, Queenie. She is a perfectly imperfect mix of confidence and crippling self doubt. In some ways she is strong, confronting elements of racism and sexism head on, but in others she displays impressive levels of self destruction.

Her career is stalling while she looks for ‘the big idea’ as a journalist, and the courage to pitch what she really feels. Her relationship is stalling for many reasons, but refuses to admit that ‘we are on a break’ can mean forever. Her friendships are stalling as she isn’t taking the time to properly listen to them.

Through all of this, including a detour into some self destructive aggressive sexual encounters, we feel for and experience with Queenie. You understand her internal voice and need for the things she so wrongly pursues, and root for her despite the recklessness of her choices in work, love and sex. She is not a role model or heroine. She does not provide a solid example for young black women, she is not always aspirational. But she does feel real.

Bridget Jones with a sense of realism? Americanah with a dose of British humour? Queenie is above all that, she’s just so, well, Queenie.

Excellent. Evocative writing with a lightness of touch that betrays the intricacy of the social issues the writing is dealing with.The structure of the story is an effortless, intuitive series of thematic flashbacks to past events, all relevant and all well drawn. A must read.

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The Clockwork Crow by Catherine Fisher

Now this one is very good. The Clockwork Crow is the perfect way to call back to children’s books of the past.

In a story that is reminiscent of old fashioned mystery stories, sort of The Snow Spider by way of Jane Eyre and Rebecca – this story has everything. Mysterious strangers on train platforms, clockwork magical creatures suffering from magical curses, Welsh mythology, locked attic nursery rooms we’re forbidden from entering and suspicious servants in a spooky mansion.

The story centres on Seren who has had a tragic time, losing her parents then her guardian. We join her at a spooky deserted train station on her way to live with the godfather she’s never met, his wife and her son, at a remote house in Plas-Y-Fran. After a chance encounter with a weird stranger in the waiting room she is left with pieces of a clockwork bird with a jewelled eye – and a warning not to put it together.

The house she ends up at is deserted apart from some not-so-friendly staff, and the brother she was desperately hoping for seems to have vanished in mysterious circumstances – which appears connected to why she is not allowed in certain locked rooms in the house….

This has the right blend of spooky gothic chills and fairy tale (and Fairy Folk) elements with a feisty investigative main character, who is given enough agency to not feel like she is being swept through a story.

It’s impossible to believe how few pages this story is told in. The prose is economical, but poetic in places and Seren’s experiences are beautifully realised. This could easily become a future classic, and is a lovely standalone story (although I would totally read a series of stories of a young girl and her gothic, talking, cursed, clockwork crow solving mysteries and battling the supernatural across Wales…)

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Moonrise – Sarah Crossan

Stylistically challenging at first, this verse novel is emotionally raw, powerful and affecting. The story follows Joe, who is the only member of his family travelling down to witness the execution of his brother. Rather than a straightforward narrative, the series of poems piecing together his journey to acceptance, growing up, and forgiveness is harrowing.

The poems jump from the event that caused Ed’s imprisonment and it’s effect on the family through to visits to the prison and the relationships Joe forms in the community which exists in the nearby town.

The format makes Ed’s plight even more dramatic. The book leaves you wondering what Ed’s fate will be throughout, but without making it the focus – it tightly keeps that on Joe and how he is handling the whole process. No matter what the ending was, this reviewer had tears in his eyes for essentially the last 75 pages. I’m not a poetry fan, but after the first 20 or so pages, I was completely lost in the story and didn’t pick up the style as being different, just an emotional way to convey events and feelings.

The authentic setting, actions and language of the character make it hard to believe the author isn’t from the places described. 

One that stays with you, and I can’t wait to read more from her.

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SECOND OPINION – The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker

We’ve seen this one on the site before, but Rogan’s Reviewer Claudia has sent us her thoughts!

The Dreamers is very different to anything I remember reading before. It is set in a small college town in America and tracks the lives of the inhabitants as they encounter a strange illness that sends them to sleep. 

It follows the stories of four characters/couples/families central throughout the epidemic that hits the town. You learn their very human stories of love, loss and hope – longing for past happiness, hope for the future, desire to fit in, to do the right thing and the need to protect their loved ones. 

There there isn’t a clear climax to the story. The chapters tick over while building the story without any great relevations. Yet, I was compelled to keep reading, eagerly wanting to know what would happen next in the plot and also to the characters who I grew fond of and empathised with.
I enjoyed this book, and although quite melancholic, I felt it ended well.

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Pages & Co: Tilly and the Bookwanderers – Anna James

Today’s review is a magical book for 8-12 year olds with magical adventure, books and a girl who lives in a bookshop!

Here is a review from a Rogan’s Reviewer, Emily (10).

Pages and Co is the story of an 11 year old girl who can travel inside books. She lives in a bookshop in London with her grandparents. The story begins when Tilly loses her best friend and ends with her imprisoning a villain with her new comrade! As well as books this story is packed full of friendships, mysteries and cake.

Pages and co by Anna James is an absolutely brilliant book for any book-lover and is full of so many plot twists it’s extraordinary! Especially at the end (but I won’t spoil it for you). I wish I could book wander like Tilly and Oscar, my only question is what would happen if you book wandered into this book? Would you be able to book wander into the books in the book? I loved how it referenced so many other books, but it would only make sense if you have read them all, luckily, I had read most of them. I loved all the little details like the necklace with the bee charm that Tilly and her mum both wear, and how the opening scene begins with Tilly spilling potatoes everywhere. The two characters I loved the most were Amelia, the librarian and Anne of green gables.

I would recommend this book to children aged 5-105.

I would rate it 10/10!

And I would just like to say one more thing: that the author of this book is an absolute genius.