Posted on

Tilly and the Lost Fairy Tales – Anna James

NOTE: this review was done on an electronic version of the novel, kindly provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

This is the second book in the Pages and Co series. This magical middle grade (8+) follows Tilly, and her friend Oskar as they ‘bookwander’. Which is to travel into books and have adventures, interacting with characters and having a generally wonderful time. Imagine being able to have a picnic with Mole in Wind in the Willows, or escape from the Red Queen in Through the Looking Glass.

Tilly lives in her grandparents bookshop and they try to protect her from the dangers of book wandering and slowly introduce her to the Underlibrary, who are responsible for looking after and maintaining stories.

This sequel was inevitable given the dangling plot threads and impending danger in the first one. This story spins off in a whole new direction with intrigue, adventure and a foray into the current political climate and the rise of uninformed, hysterical leaders who only want to act for their interests. Possibly the first middle grade book I’ve read with an allusion to Brexit and far right nationalism!

As before, this is nostalgically and beautifully written, harking back to the heady days of great friends and fun adventure by an author who equally loves books and the bookish world. It maintains a middle grade level of danger, along with likeable characters and a sense of expansion for the fictional world James has created.

There are twists and turns and getting lost in a good book will never feel the same again. The only downside is this is very much a middle book, so it widens and deepens bookwandering, without providing a firm conclusion to anything, so is the very definition of leaving you wanting more. More of everything including the wonderful illustrations by Paola Escobar.

A brilliant wintry read with a chunk of the book taking place in a close to a Christmas setting. Really lovely.

PS, in case you missed it, here’s a link to our Reviewer, Emily’s review of the first in the series…

Posted on

The Black Flamingo – Dean Atta

Wow. Rachael has made our book of the month The Black Flamingo, which is my favourite book of the year so far.

A book of verse, prose and power, this is the perfect tale of recognising and owning your identity. Don’t let verse intimidate you, it’s conversational, intimate and intuitive.

Interspersed with text exchanges and simple but effective illustrations this is visually stimulating and addictive to read. It tells the story of Michael, a boy of mixed Jamaican and Greek – Cypriot heritage and touches on what it is to be different and the journey to become accept that and become unique.

With brilliantly drawn characters in Michael’s family during childhood through to his quirky teenage friends you get a sense of his life and journey and when the book finishes, you will want to hear more from everyone in his found family.

Sometimes, we need to take charge, to stand up wearing pink feathers – to show ourselves to the world in bold colour.

The wise, lyrical, achingly funny words and imagery perfectly capture what it is to stand out, to search for yourself in others and to find your centre.

Some of Michael’s internal thoughts about growing up LGBTQ+ are so spot on its uncomfortable. It also provides a window into his racial identity, a poignant emotional, look through a window I can never hope to fully understand.

It’s why #ownvoices are so important.

The only response to such an affecting book is to say thank you.

April Evening in Cyprus

Your grandfather draws
your attention to the news;
the story, a black flamingo
has landed on the island.

An expert on screen
explaining it is the opposite
of an albino. Too much
melanin, he says. Camera pans

the salt lake full of pink
but the eye is drawn
to that one black body
in the flamboyance
Posted on

Royals by Emma Forrest

Dazzling, inventive and layered, this novel is not what you expect from the title or blurb.  

July, 1981. London. Shy, working-class Steven finds solace in beauty. Eighteen years old, he dreams of being a fashion designer. He’s also gay, maybe – he hasn’t decided yet. There’s a lot Steven isn’t sure about, like whether he hates himself or thinks he’s amazing.

When he ends up in hospital after being brutally attacked by his father, he meets Jasmine, an heiress. Intoxicating, anarchic, fabulous Jasmine. Fuelled by their shared love of fashion, a friendship blossoms and soon, Steven finds himself swept into her hedonistic world, wholly beguiled. However, underneath the glitter and the frivolity, darkness lies. 

Devastating, dazzling, queer and radical, Royals is a love story between unlikely friends from completely different worlds. It’s about the power of art to transform lives and the power of families to destroy them. It’s about working out who you are and what you want. It’s a tale of giddy happiness, crushing lows and, ultimately, the fragility of lives lived too fast.

The book follows the meeting between Steven, aspiring teen fashion designer and a victim of parental domestic abuse,  and Jasmine, a high society ‘it’ girl. We experience the subsequent shockwaves they encounter in their young lives with the marriage of Charles and Diana as a framing device. Imagine Simon Doonan and Tara Palmer Tompkinson having an intense friendship….

Emma Forrest

It’s witty, poignant and incisive. Forrest is ingenious in evoking the early 1980’s, the story is peppered with cultural references, but not to the degree to take you out of the narrative. 

The writing and dialogue is clever without being showy and literary without sacrificing readability.

There are some unlikely vaguely operatic twists towards the end, but they are in keeping with the heightened period of Steven and Jasmine’s lives and you are swept along nonetheless.

The release date of October is the only puzzle as it’s the perfect summer read, perfect for hazy days in a city park with a glass of champagne in honour of Jasmine, and potted meat sandwiches for Steven.

Posted on

The Kingdom by Jess Rothenberg

Today we have a review from Rogan’s Reviewer Holly.

Welcome to the Kingdom, a dazzling fantasy theme park where ‘happily ever after’ is not just a promise, but a rule . . . This new book out on July 11th is a tautly paced YA thriller for fans of One Of Us Is Lying and Westworld….

Holly’s thoughts:

The Kingdom follows the life of Ana (a half-human, half-android), a beautiful fantasist in a dreamland park. You see Ana as she comes into conflict with Dr Foster, the world and even her own programming and the only person she can turn to is a human boy she shouldn’t even be talking to.

I really enjoyed the book as it was told through court testimony, interrogation records and flashbacks; something I haven’t seen done before although I really enjoyed it. The book was tense and thrilling. It also had an incredible plot twist. Throughout the entire book it kept me guessing and I couldn’t stop reading; it was addictive!

I think the book is brilliant and I definitely think Rogan’s books should stock it.  

Posted on

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!

Posted on

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!

Posted on

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…

Posted on

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.

Posted on

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!

Posted on

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.