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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).

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Pearl Power and the Girl with Two Dads – Mel Elliott

This picture book does a brilliant thing effortlessly. As an LGBT+ couple with a son we’re always on the look out for a well produced, good quality book which features a child with two mums or two dads.

By their nature – not having the biggest potential customer base – they can be cheaply made or not to the same standard as wider releases which is so dispiriting.

Pearl however, is not cheap. Pearl Power is a little girl with a lot of spirit. She is forthright and speaks her mind, and believes in equality. She’s excited to welcome the new girl, Matilda to her school, but quickly discovers she’s a little different, Matilda has two dads!

Pearl deals with this information brilliantly and matter of fact-ly and assumes because her mum makes her be responsible and eat vegetables that a house with two dads would be totally different and fun.

Little does poor Pearl realise that her house is more like Matilda’s than she would like…

This book isn’t just great for showing kids that their same sex parents are just like everyone else, but it should be required reading for ‘regular’ families too. It makes it clear that the issue is only as complicated as adults want to make it.

PERFECT FOR: anyone who has a little boy or girl in their class who happens to have two mummies or two daddies. It will totally help them realise all humans have more in common than they have different.

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The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night – Jen Campbell

SHORT STORIES – PAPERBACK – £8.99

GORGEOUS GROWN UP BOOK ALERT!! This collection of weird, wonderful grown up short stories is enchanting.

From a girl running a coffin hotel where people can experience a slice of death for the night on an island…. to a world like ours where you can order replacement animal hearts on the internet for your loved ones. 

From a moment where a mysterious silent soldier appears in a woman’s kitchen to a boy looking for advice as his sister seems to have two souls. Plus the sentient plants stealing a van to avoid gardeners (sort of, still not quite sure what that ones about) .

Dreamlike lyrical writing which is almost poetry, this little collection really stays with you. Amazing stuff from a female author and poet who has such a precise command of her language and mastery of atmosphere within just a few short paragraphs.

If you like eccentric, weird yet emotional reads to intersperse with your longer novels, this is perfect to dip into.

 

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Boy Meets Hamster by Birdie Milano

Instead of starting this review with a summary of the plot and characters, this reviewer has to start with a thank you to the author and publishers. This is TOTALLY the book that 12 year old me needed to have in his life. It super duper isn’t their fault that it came out 26 years too late now I’m properly old.

So, now that’s out of the way, let’s begin. This summery, lovely book is about Dylan who is fourteen and is being dragged along to a £9.50 short break holiday in a caravan park in Cornwall. The bonus is he’s been allowed to bring his best friend Kayla along, which is important to him as his family doesn’t know that he likes boys. His parents are busy dancing and being soooo embarrassing and often leave him to baby sit his four year old brother Jude.

He wouldn’t normally mind this, but his attention is focussed on Jayden-Lee, the caravan park’s resident bad boy. Dylan is smitten at first sight and is determined to be noticed. How much will Kayla help him in his quest for love before she feels neglected? Will Jayden-Lee feel the same if Dylan can work up the courage to be seen? Surely he can’t be that naughty underneath it all? More importantly, just why does the Park Mascot, Nibbles the hamster, seem to be in his way being so annoying and meddling in his attempts at every turn?

This book is sweet and funny, with Dylan’s ability to get into ever increasingly catastrophic situations providing a lot of laughs and thrills. Not only that, it’s heartfelt as it has real issues faced by kids between its covers.

With an exciting, romantic ending, this will stay with you much longer than any £9.50 mini break in a dingy rubbish caravan park!

A PARENTS PERSPECTIVE

We don’t like to put an age range on reading, but despite its gently romantic theme, it is not explicit at all, and is suitable for all older children. Most reviewers say 12+, but depending on the maturity of the child I would argue there’s nothing here that slightly younger ages than this couldn’t read.

As well as dealing with themes of unrequited crushes, and understanding the beginnings of romantic feelings, this book touches on themes of complex family dynamics, coming out to family members, and bullying.

This book has both a positive, not overwrought attitude towards LGBT issues, and a lovely representation of disability. Dylan’s little brother Jude has cerebral palsy and the book provides an honest look at what it must be like for a family with a member in a wheelchair without ever being preachy. His best friend Kayla is plus sized and has a very body positive attitude and one of the romances touched upon is racially diverse.

We would totally recommend this book to any reader, gay or straight, but if you think that your child might be LGBT+ but not ready to talk to you about it, mixing this book into their reading is a great idea. It will give them the message that who they are is ok, teach them they are worth something lovely and ‘normal’ happening to them and show them they’re not alone. It may also give them the tools and the courage to talk to you about how they feel and who they are – without ruining a whole fairground event (don’t ask, Dylan already feels bad enough about it!).

This is a funny, heartwarming tale, with madcap set pieces which verge on slapstick thanks to Dylan’s complete inability to de-escalate any situation.

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Books for tweens and teenagers who don’t fit in

As a mother who is a bibliophile, there is often a temptation to try and find the answer to all of life’s trials in the pages of a book.

Kids won’t sleep?  Kids won’t eat?  Kids won’t do anything they are supposed to do, including getting their uniforms on, eating their breakfast and JUST GETTING OUT OF THE DOOR PLEASE OH FOR THE LOVE OF… You get the picture. And there are some great books out there for parents that, even if they don’t actually fix the problem, give you the comfort of knowing you’re not alone, and this too shall pass.

But what about when they hit that age – and if you’re there, you know exactly what I’m talking about – that stage between childhood and ‘adulthood’ where the parenting manuals just can’t fix it? The stage of “you don’t know what it’s like…” 

You want to tell them “it will get better” or “those people who seem so confident probably feel just as frightened as you” or “you are an incredible human being, and it may be hard to understand that now, because you have only been on the planet for [insert age] years, but believe me… Believe me when I tell you that out there, in the big world, you are going to soar”.

You’ve perhaps read this far waiting for a link to a magical new book that holds the answers to this new challenge in the journey that is parenthood. Sorry.

I believe that books do hold the answers to life’s trials. And they do give the comfort of knowing you’re not alone, and this too shall pass. But the books that matter here are not for you.

They are for our children who want to fit in and be like everyone else. To learn that they are not alone in feeling like an outsider. The excruciatingly difficult lesson of learning that what makes them different from everyone else may well be the thing that makes them so incredibly awesome.

Below are a few books that can help them along that path. Books that let them share the stories of young people figuring out what it means to be who they are. And sometimes, that can be enough. To feel that that journey is a shared one.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell – a coming-of-age story about an introvert who learns the value of being herself.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky – championing and celebrating inclusivity and tolerance by showing both how people can blossom when they are accepted for who they are, and how painful life can be for people who are ignored or mistreated.

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli – an insight into every teenager’s mind, figuring out whether different is good, and being true to yourself.

Share your recommendations on our Facebook page – what books helped you get through those difficult teenage years..?