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The Parentations by Kate Mayfield

I just love a crazy book. And this is properly kooky, and all the better for it.

This story follows a number of paths, with some intriguing groups of people.

Two sisters who sleep for huge parts of the year, in shifts, but always walk the same route of one London park every year, wondering if this is the year ‘he’ will come back. Oh and they don’t age.

A ragtag family who seem to hate each other, with a controlling paranoid woman at the head who is hiding mysterious blue vials around their home – who is being plotted against. Oh, and they don’t age either.

A mysterious group in Iceland, who live near a mysteriously blue water source. And guess what, they’re not exactly spring chickens either.

Are they immortal? What links these weird and wonderful characters?The story then moves back to the eighteenth century and we start to get the full weird and wonderful tale, with complex links between the people, and twists of identity, situation and circumstance.

This was simply, a pleasure. It’s a wonderful gothic high drama, with a sneering operatically fabulous villain who is ten steps ahead of everyone – each one is crueller than the last. There is humour, mystery misery and double-crossing. There is such an interesting central mystery, which is crammed with historic detail quirks of each period it touches and a touch of Icelandic culture. It kept me interested from start to finish. Whenever a character dies, it’s heartbreaking, when someone outwits the antagonist – however briefly – you want to cheer. Despite its length I would happily revisit this gothic world should the author want to expand its scope. However, this quality of prose and such an expansive plot makes her second novel, whatever it may be, one to watch.

 

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Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts) by L. C. Rosen

 

Todays book is definitely on the A section of YA – and is all the better for it. Definitely aimed at the over sixteens, Jack of Hearts is definitely the book I would have devoured at that age, and found useful beyond measure.

This novel brings us a cool and original central character, Jack, who is a sex positive, completely out, somewhat feminine young man. He is unapologetic in his enjoyment of sex and categorically refuses to respond to over inflated, scandalised rumours of his conquests (and there are more than a few of both). He understands that not everyone will like him or be comfortable with him and the way he chooses to express his identity and sexuality, and is himself anyway.

One of his best friends, Jenna, has a blog about the teens in their community – and wants to capitalise on that reputation to firstly help dispel some of the wilder rumours, but also to educate local teens both about sex and LGBTQ+ issues.

He reluctantly agrees and the book periodically gives us Jacks column, in the form of answers to the questions posed by readers.

This is all well and good until he gets a mystery admirer, who leaves notes in his locker, that start as unsettling and quickly become terrifying. Who is doing this? Why? And how far will their delusions take them into Jack’s personal life?

This book is a delight. The frank look at gay teenage sexuality is refreshing and the column excerpts raise and advise on issues such as consent, empathy, sexual etiquette, the bizarre stereotyping and fetishisation of gay men by some teenage girls and much more.

There’s a sweet burgeoning romance for Jack’s other best friend Ben, with a meaningful and true friendship depicted between the three very different teens. The depiction of Jack’s emotionally withdrawn mother is all too realistic for today’s teen, and the reveal of the stalker, while not the point of the book at all, is deftly handled if a little rushed and clunky.

You don’t see a full and frank discussion of sex in most YA books, reflecting real life for many, where sexual acts can be recreational – rather than part of a great love story, or a supernaturally predestined Great Love.

In lieu of actual sex education in secondary/sixth form institutions, teens could do a lot worse than check out this charming YA debut.

 

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The Cradle of All Worlds (The Jane Doe Chronicles 1) – Jeremy Lachlan

This is a tricky one, it’s a rip roaring adventure featuring a smart, sarcastic heroine who is saving herself, but it’s definitely solely aimed at it’s audience, with less adult appeal than you might expect for a book of this ilk.

Jane Doe appeared with her semi comatose father on the steps of the Manor in the town of Bluehaven.

For years she has been struggling with her social position as her appearance that day lead to her being labelled as cursed. She feeds and looks after her dad, while living in the basement of the family who drew the short straw and had to take her in.

She finds out there is a gateway to other worlds in the manor and that her blood opens mysterious gateways as well as having the power to demolish the buildings of her town.

Once the action moves  into the world behind the manor, the book becomes a thrilling adventure with great set pieces, new characters and great world building.

Which is good as this one finishes on a blooming cliffhanger!

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Pugs of the Frozen North – Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre

 

What a lovely book. It’s not the most fantastical of the lovely books collaborated on by Reeve and MacIntyre, but it probably has the most heart.

This gorgeous little book follows Shen the Cabin boy from the Lucky Star ship which becomes stuck in ice and has to be abandoned. The selfish Captain Jeggings dumps the cargo, which includes 66 adorable pugs. Once Shen meets Sika they embark upon the greatest race – The Great North Run, because the prize is the winners hearts desire.

The characters they meet along the way are wonderful, from eternally hungry suspiciously human like Yeti, to snow trolls and Helga Hammerfest, whose sled is pulled by two polar bears Snowdrop and Slushpuppy – and is super proud of her beard as ‘most ladies don’t care for beards, but I find mine helps to keep my chin warm’. And indeed at one point it helps keep 66 pugs warm too.

The art work is beautiful, the two colours working so well together, with line drawing conveying so much emotion, action and fun all at once, and the writing is hilarious, the language whimsical and where it needs to be the plotting is carefully done to make the most of what an age 7+ audience can follow.

With a mixture of Wacky Races, a heroic quest and a barrel of belly laughs, there’s thrills (in the ice), Spills (in the ice) and a surprisingly emotional conclusion (location not be be spoiled as to reveal anything).

Don’t forget Reeves and McIntyre’s new creation, The Legend of Kevin can also be bought in the shop – and who doesn’t want to read about Max the boy and Kevin the Roly Poly Flying Pony who crash lands into his life….

 

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The Girls – Lauren Ace and Jenny Lovlie

Rogan’s Reviews is all about getting our customers to review books and make this resource part of the community and Primrose (3) – with some help from Jo (35) were more than willing to oblige!
This weeks review comes from them and they have read the lovely ‘The Girls’. This is a Rogan favourite after the shop window art we had based on this book, and so we were delighted our customers loved it!
Once there was a tree that grew little girls as well as apples…’
Writer Lauren Ace introduces four little girls who choose an apple tree as their meeting place, following them throughout their childhood years. Each girl has her own unique character but the bond they form is strong. As they develop into teenagers, then young women, the girls champion one another’s highs but also share the burden of their respective lows.
As adults, the girls enhance the world in their own ways – professionally, spiritually and through their own children. Yet they remain true to one another, meeting up under the tree each time they return home. Another reason why ‘The Girls’ is a favourite of mine is that it portrays the girls doing things that have traditionally been the domain of boys and men: seeing them climbing trees, playing sport, studying science, going to uni, getting muddy, mountaineering, being doctors and professionals… It subtly but surely subverts these gender stereotypes. More books like this are needed.
Jenny Lovlie could not have been a more perfect illustrator this story. I can’t imagine the girls and the world they live in looking any different – her ability to depict the their emotions through simple facial expressions; the colour palette; the nods to her Scandinavian roots; the seasonal changes to the tree… they all combine to create the most beautiful accompaniment to Lauren’s words.
It took a while to read this book without welling up. Seeing P delighting in the story whilst thinking about her beginning her own life journey, and simultaneously thinking of the enduring friendships of mine that began in childhood and more recently, was a bit of a rollercoaster. We have already purchased a copy for a little friend of hers but I feel like buying a copy for MY best friends – it really is a powerful testament to the roots and branches of lifelong friendships, with all their twists and turns.
Jo and Primrose are correct, it makes a lovely gift – especially the beautiful hardback edition – which is why we have plenty of copies in for Christmas!
If you want to hear more about Primrose’s introductions to the world of stories, you can follow along on instagram – @thelittleliterarysociety
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The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – Stuart Turton

If you like not just whodunnit, but howdunnit, whydunnit, WTFdunnit’s then this book may just be for you!

The book opens with our narrator in a forest during a rainstorm in the middle of shouting the name ‘Anna’ . But he pauses and realises he doesn’t know who he is, how he got there – or who Anna might be – the only thing he does know is that it isn’t his body.

What our protagonist comes to realise is that he is at a society function at a remote country house, and there will be a murder. When that murder occurs, the day resets and he has another chance to solve it – but in the body of another guest.

He will see events from different perspectives, the bodies he is in will have different physical and social barriers to mar his investigation – and there seem to be rules around what can, and always will, happen. And who is the mysterious figure in the creepy plague doctor mask who appears to be threatening him – but also is the only one who knows what is happening.

This has been described as Agatha Christie meets Groundhog Day, but that is doing it a disservice – it’s not a whodunnit, but instead a complex look at the guests interactions. It’s a massively thought out plot, involving one day from so many perspectives. As you’re reading, the twists and turns mean the rules and your understanding of what’s actually going on shift hugely and not only is it straightforward to follow, you start to see the jigsaw is both bigger than you thought and a completely different shape than when you started.

Deserving of its recent win at the Books Are My Bag award show, this is a richly drawn, rewarding, intricate roller coaster of a read.

The authors second book is going to need to be very good to keep up this momentum!

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They Both Die At The End – Adam Silvera

Wow. This one will just destroy you. Imagine an experience so intense, a book where you know the outcome is fatal to both characters, but you have to read the whole thing, get attached to them and fall in love with them a little, knowing that at any plot point one or both will be dead.

Cheers, Mr Silvera.

Set in a world like ours, except through an unknown development, it becomes known, at midnight, who in the world is going to die that day.

As you would expect industries develop around the knowledge. It’s a call centre, Death-Cast, that calls you – as soon as they can – so you want to be at the front of that queue. Experience centres and theme parks with global cultures pop up, allowing you to do bucket list things and ‘travel’ before you die.

And people create and hold their own funerals with their loved ones. But what if your loved ones aren’t around or can’t get to you? There’s an app for that. Last Friend.

A little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: they’re going to die today. Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different super sad reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure – to live a lifetime in a single day.

Neither character is wholly likeable and their flaws are what make them people that you’re rooting for – Rufus a guy that can’t catch a break and to whom rubbish things happen, and Mateo, someone who life is just waiting for, but he just can’t get out and live his life.

To see what these two characters do for their last day is heart breaking, heart warming, and heart to bear (scuse the terrible pun). The constant threat and jolts of ‘this  is how Mateo dies, or Rufus, WATCH OUT’ make this a tense experience.

The world is thought out well, and the details of how Death-Casts would change our society are dead on.

I devoured this in as few sittings as possible as it was uplifting, yet depressing, long but frustratingly short and simple yet deceptively emotional.

Read it. But don’t blame us for making you sad.

 

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Nevermoor – The Trials of Morrigan Crow – Jessica Townsend

This enchanting book for older children debuted in 2017, and as the sequel has just been released it seemed an ideal time to have a little look at this one.

We follow Morrigan Crow who has always been told she’s useless and a curse, and blamed for literally anything that goes wrong where she lives. She didn’t really mind all that as she has always known that she was going to die at Eventide, when she is 11.

Just as she’s supposed to die, she is whisked away by a mysterious, enigmatic, incredibly…. ginger haired man named Jupiter North. They arrive in a city of magic, Nevermoor, at the hotel he owns and Morrigan tries to settle in.

Through a series of trials, Morrigan is to try to gain entry to the Wundrous Society, which is the most respected organisation in Nevermoor. Battling her outsider status against mean girls and their magical talents Morrigan finds unlikely allies – most notably a giant talking cat called Fen.

The language is simple, yet magical and spellbinding, the imagery is stunning and cinematic (you feel the whole thing has been written with a lucrative film contract in mind). In particular the Hotel Deucalion seems so wondrous, sorry Wundrous, that you are totally enchanted. Who wouldn’t want a rooms of flavoured smoke whose smells change by season and mood, to a room that sensed your emotional state and changed configuration and decoration according to it’s own whim?

This immersion in a comforting, homely world is what is making people draw comparisons to Harry Potter, but this is infinitely more innocent, and optimistic than that, a real family friendly approach to adventure.

The plot and pacing are great, and enough of the world opens up so that you both can see the avenues future books might take, but also enjoy the story as a whole.

 

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Flat Stanley – Jeff Brown

This 1968 classic book for readers gaining confidence in their comprehension is a classic with good reason.

If you haven’t already met Stanley Lambchop, he’s a normal boy whose cork board falls on him during the night and he becomes ‘four feet tall, about a foot wide, and half an inch thick’.

With his bemused parents and slightly jealous brother, he navigates a new life – and wardrobe – learning the benefits of being able to be posted to see his friend in America, much more cheaply than flying.

This lovely book has stood the test of time and nostalgia doesn’t tarnish it, it’s ideal for new readers looking to expand from shorter picture books with simple clear language. It’s aged a lot better than it’s contemporaries have, and the message towards the end about not discriminating on appearance or religion is even more relevant than ever.

The Jon Mitchell illustrated version is lovely and the wildly inventive story will have your little ones eagerly reaching for the next one.

And we forgot to mention, there are thieves to catch as well).