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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.

                             

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The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton – Anstey Harris

This is a warm and uplifting book from Anstey Harris – the publisher blurb :

Grace Atherton has fallen out of love…and into life.

Between the simple melody of running her violin shop and the full-blown orchestra of her romantic interludes in Paris with David, her devoted partner of eight years, Grace Atherton has always set her life to music.

Her world revolves entirely around David, for Grace’s own secrets have kept everyone else at bay. Until, suddenly and shockingly, one act tips Grace’s life upside down, and the music seems to stop.

It takes a vivacious old man and a straight-talking teenager to kickstart a new chapter for Grace. In the process, she learns that she is not as alone in the world as she had once thought, that no mistake is insurmountable and that the quiet moments in life can be something to shout about…. 

And Christine, one of our Rogan’s Reviewers says:

A story of how one single event is changing  a few peoples lives for ever. A story of what love is not and what friendship is with love of music as a background. It is a book full of emotions and a good read – very enjoyable. Thank you for recommending I try this book.

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The Dreamers – Karen Thompson Walker

Well, this will be polarising. This book is nominally an epidemic / apocalyptic thriller charting the spread of a disease in a small Californian university town. It’s also an in depth lyrical piece about the nature of dreams and reality. 

We begin in a small town in the shadow of a mountain, next to a lake, and one by one local college students start to fall asleep. And they can’t be woken, with their brains are more active than waking or dreaming. 

The short chapters explore the lives of some of the students, two young girls who live with their survivalist father, a doctor visiting to understand the epidemic, two new parents and their tiny baby and many more. 

The prose is fascinating, lyrical and flows beautifully. The short chapters are evocative and give you a real sense of the people in the town, while still touching on the escalating crisis. 

I can imagine readers coming to this expecting thriller style ‘Outbreak’ shenanigans will be disappointed, but if you loved her previous work, The Age of Miracles (2012) you will enjoy this one. There is an explanation and resolution to the story, characters and the sickness itself, but it is mostly not needed or the point. 

Excellent, let’s just hope the next novel from this author arrives sooner than 2026!

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The Go-Away Bird by Julia Donaldson and Catherine Rayner

What a lovely book, this little treat is a real traditional picture book. It’s the story of a grumpy bird who doesn’t want any company or noise and always tell people to go away.

There is some great repetition so that children can easily understand the story and can join in at the right points for the times when the bird refuses friendship. Then when a bigger threat shows the strength and support of a group the message of the story is subtley revealed.

Catherine Rayners stunning paintings provide both beauty and character and Julia Donaldsons prose seems both fresher and more traditional all at once than her recent works.

A lovely tale about needing time to oneself, but also the value of friendship and teamwork. Lovely.

The Go-Away Bird is released in a gorgeous hardback edition on 7 March 2019.

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The Plotters Un-Su Kim

This is a (very) grown up new book, released on Thursday 21 February. It’s from one of the biggest established voices in Korean Noir. Newly translated ready for the UK Market, it’s challenging and distinctively non Western in style and tone.

‘Kill Bill meets Murakami. Twisted and surreal, The Plotters is one of those rare books that will haunt you long after you’ve finished it. The writing is smooth, unhurried and often profound, even as it draws you deeper into the gruesome underworld of skilled contract killers. Chillingly, the violence is almost exquisite, a bloody art form’ D. B. John, author of Star of the North

Our Rogan’s Reviewer Erin writes:

“The Guardian billed this as the new Scandi noir; considering Jo Nesbo’s books have sold more than 36 million copies worldwide this is a bold claim, fortunately this bold claim is more than just talk. Reseng, our main character is an assassin in Seoul, and while yes he is an assassin, he has morals and isn’t a bad person, after all everybody needs a job. This is a job, in the world he was brought into as a baby and the only world he knows. This underpinning fact of Reseng’s life explains the business like manner of his character. The story reads like a third person memoir of an assassin a tone that I don’t think other authors could have achieved with the same level of mastery as Un-Su Kim. Concisely put, this story – because it’s so foreign to your own life experience – draws you in such a insidious manner that you will suddenly find yourself irrationally angry at perfectly ordinary parts of your day because they are taking away from your reading time. 

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Enchantee – Gita Trelease

This brand new release (21 Feb) is a magical YA release.

School Library Journal describe it :

Distinctive characters, vivid 18th-century images of Paris and Versailles, lively French-infused dialogue, an appealing heroine, and an upbeat ending propel this lengthy romantic fantasy. Romance and fantasy readers will enjoy the magic realism, ruse and tension of Camille’s double identity, authentic historical references, and Camille’s daring, passionate spirit. A must-have.

Our own Rogan’s Reviewer, Holly says:

Enchantée is an amazing twist of historical setting and magic.  The book follows the life of Camille, a young girl, as she struggles to keep herself and her sister alive by using magic to cheat her way into court. 

The book was exciting and sad. It had a hold over me; I couldn’t stop turning the pages. I could feel the character’s pain and fear, and at several points felt myself tense hearing my heart beat a little faster. Because the book is set in the past with a detailed description of Paris in 1789, you can imagine the characters to be real, and that this was what their lives were like. 

I would recommend this book for young adults who are interested in magic, drama and a sense of mystery. Overall, I think Rogan’s Books should stock this book and that it will be really popular.

Come and order a copy!