Thursday, September 30, 2010

An evening with Cornelia Funke

Tonight was one of the highlights of my bloggery / fan-girly "career".  I got to attend an event to celebrate the launch of Cornelia Funke's new novel RECKLESS.

I had an opportunity much earlier this year to meet her, at the Chicken House 10 year birthday, but due to being struck down with swine-flu, I couldn't attend.  However, tonight made up for that 100%.  I am still smiling.

Mary, the PR person sent me an email last week to tell me about this dress that Cornelia would be wearing and to make sure that I bring my camera to document it.  Well, I invariably lug my trusty little Nikon with and wow, what an event.

First, let's show off some photos.

Hmm - shiny pretty bookses

I could not resist taking this shot of the room reflected - and no, that's not me you can just about see...
Fantastic treasure on display 

The Lady and the Dress - I have dubbed Cornelia Funke in this dress as the Queen of Air and Darkness

A genuinely charismatic and down to earth lady with a tremendous story-telling gift

Michael Schellenberg from Canada and Cornelia Funke 

Cornelia and Lionel Wigram, co-creator of Reckless in discussion with Nicolette Jones.


It was such a treat listen to Ms. Funke and Mr. Wigram chat about how they came together through mutual friends and then found out that they are very much on the same wave-length when it comes to storytelling.

Now, for those of you who don't know, Lionel Wigram is a pretty cool guy in his own right.  Embarrassingly, it took me AGES to realise who he was.  But once I did, I resolved to chat to him about Sherlock Holmes which I loved.  

I digress - so Nicolette Jones (dressed beautifully in a period frock) chatted to Ms. Funke and Mr. Wigram about their partnership and how different it must have been for Cornelia to work with a narrative partner at this time.  

I was struck by how genuine Ms. Funke seemed.  And wonderfully confident and charismatic.  She spoke the most, I'd say, but she had her audience hanging on her every word.  Between the two of them, they had an easy banter and Nicolette had only been given 20 minutes to chat to them, but I suspect we could have stood there listening to them for a good hour or more.  

Afterwards, Mr. Barry Cunningham, the head of ChickenHouse told us all to nab some of the books off the display and to get the author and co-creator to sign it.  I did not need to be invited twice.  I got two copies - one for me, of course, and one for my friend in Cape Town.  Her name is Michelle and it is through Michelle that I discovered Inkheart and subsequently my love for children's literature.  So, a big thanks, lovely Mich, for sharing your obsession. 

And that's my story - it was an amazing evening.  I didn't really get the chance to say much to Ms. Funke as there was an entire room keen to talk to her. 

Oh! Before I do log off - the picture of Michael and Cornelia has an amusing story:  Michael was downstairs at the venue with some friends when he spotted Mary, the PR lady.  Mary told Michael she was at Beach Blanket Babylon to host an event for an author.  Michael asked who - and then when he heard it was Cornelia, he decided he had to come up and be part of it.  It turns out that Michael works for Random House Canada.  So I made sure to nab his card off him so that I can send him a link to the blogpost so that he has another picture of him and Ms. Funke mugging for the camera. 

My review for Reckless should be soon - I'm taking it with me on holiday to France. A big thanks to Barry Cunningham and his wonderful staff and Mary, for the very flattering invitation to the event.  I am one exceedingly happy fan girl.  Dreams are made of this. 

Under 14's Only Wrap Up


Mark, Sarah and I had such a complete blast this month doing reviews aimed at younger readers. In fact, we've had such a blast, that we sort of want to keep on doing it for a while longer, but sadly, we can't due to pressure from all these other awesome books we've been buying and receiving from publishers, so we have to play fair to them and our larger (in size and numbers) audience.

Thank you, to everyone, for being so supportive of U14'sO month - you can tell we had a great time and I hope that you've all discovered new books and authors to try and recommend to younger folk.

It really has been a very positive review month for MFB, with some of the highest hits around, which is fantastic. We'll be doing more of these books for younger readers throughout the rest of the year and we'll no doubt dedicate another full month to U14'sO early in 2011.

StoryWorld by John and Caitlin Matthews

I am a big fan - of course I am - of good storytelling so any kind of aid that encourages writers, teachers and children to come up with new ideas and plots, will get a thumbs up from me.

It is thanks to Essjay (Sarah) that I discovered these little packages from Templar Books. I swooned when I saw them online. I nearly fainted when they arrived after I ordered them. Firstly, I ordered the main set of StoryWorld cards because I loved the look of it. It was only when they arrived that I spotted the tagline from Philip Pullman himself: "A very ingenious idea" - that impressed me. Opening the box reveals two sides: left hand side is The Storytelling Book. It is an uncomplicated beautifully illustrated book that gives you information on how to use it, it gives you a breakdown of each card. The Book is a beautiful hardback too and it makes a fantastic and very attractive package. On the right hand side are the cards - they are about the size of my hand and incredibly tactile.

In this photo below you can see the first StoryWorld box that contains the wonderful hardback book and the set of cards. The cards are stunning - they are so inspiring. On the back of the cards are write-ups about the picture on the front. These can be used as prompts for yourself or your young audience. I also had to own Quests and Adventures as well as Faery Magic. The "smaller" boxes contain a full set of the cards, different to other sets and the main set, along with a smaller paperback booklet that once again gives suggestions how to use the cards and booklet.


The pictures below are from the StoryWorld Quest and Adventure pack. Again, the illustrations are wonderfully detailed and each card is somehow linked to another card in that deck - all you have to do is take the time to examine the visual clues.


These cards are from the main StoryTellers deck and like the Quests and Faery decks, the cards are linked to each other. Various games are suggested to use during class sessions with younger folk or even with adults. Each of the books give examples how a handful of cards have been used to create a story which you can then read.


I genuinely do like these - apart from the fact that they are aesthetically pleasing, they are also a very clever way to encourage children to use their imaginations to tell their own stories. But to be honest, from an adult aspiring writer's point of view, they are wonderfully evocative and if you sit quietly for a few moments to examine the cards and the prompts, a ridiculous amount of ideas crop up.

The cards below are from the Faery Deck - just so pretty. These decks definitely work on your various archetypes but it goes further than that, using visual clues to teach young storytellers (and older ones) how easy it is to connect certain concepts and such.


I placed the photo below so that you can see what I mean by the clues and questions printed on the back of the cards. Clever little prompts to think through and to generate further ideas.


I showed them to my friend Michelle who is a parent to two young girls, both of them are very active little kids but they do love their stories. Both of them have amazing vocabularies and when I hauled these cards out, Michelle's eyes lit up and she immediately cottoned onto how they were to be used and showed them to the girls. Needless to say the rest of the afternoon we were regaled with stories of rescues and princesses and dogs and fish. These will make great Christmas or birthday pressies for aspiring storytellers, no matter the age. Or even for someone who enjoys amazing artwork. The cards are illustrated by Wayne Anderson and I am more than just a bit smitten.

This is the main StoryWorld website and find Templar's site here, along with Caitlin and John's site here.

Edited to add: Please note that there are multiple artists involved in each pack including Paul Hess, David Lawrence, Nicki Palin and Matilda Harrison to name a few.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Department 19


Potential recruits Mark de Jager, Liz de Jager and Amanda Rutter attended a top secret event at the Churchill War Rooms last night.

Under strict security we were allowed entrance to a highly classified area where we were made to partake of snacks and wine.  Not so bad then.  That was until the briefing.


We were informed in strictest confidence that it is only due to the existence of Department 19 that we as humans are still alive today.  We sat through the briefing and listened with growing amazement to an elaborate tale of dark forces and monsters encroaching on our shores.

It was an eye-opening experience.  We were shocked, to say the least.  Needless to say we were in need of more wine and snacks after the briefing and interview with the chronicler of the case files for Department 19.

The following are some highly classified photos of the event.  Please, whatever you do, make sure not to let the wrong people see these.


Operatives present at the evening looking as concerned about the new recruits as the new recruits looked and felt being in this unfamiliar territory. 


High ranking operatives and case files chronicler, Will Hill. 


We are introduced to the existence of Department 19.

The awful inevitable truth. 

As Mark, Amanda and I continue our training within Department 19 we will be able to share with you more and more, so please, make sure to check back regularly for updates on both MFB and Floor To Ceiling Books.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Boy vs Girl by Na'ima B Robert

Synopsis:

Farhana swallowed and reached for the hijab. But then she saw with absolute clarity the weird looks from the other girls at school, and the smirks from the guys. Did she dare? And then there was Malik... What should she do about him? Faraz was thinking about Skrooz and the lads. Soon he would finally have the respect of the other kids at school. But at what price? He heard Skrooz's voice, sharp as a switchblade: "This thing is powerful, blud. But you have to earn it, see? Just a few more errands for me..." They're twins, born 6 minutes apart. Both are in turmooil and both have life-changing choices to make, against the peaceful backdrop of Ramadan. Do Farhana and Faraz have enough courage to do the right thing? And can they help each other - or will one of them draw the other towards catastrophe?

I "discovered" Na'ima B Robert via Keren David (author of When I was Joe and Almost Ture) .  I knew I had to read Boy vs Girl and was lucky enough to be sent a copy.  I read it during the month of Ramadan, which is also the time during which the story takes place.   I was particularly aware of what Farhana and Faraz were going through as I work with two Muslimsso I could identify in one aspect of the characters' lives by observing my work colleagues abstaining from food for the duration of the day.

I'm not a particularly religious person yet Na'ima B Robert's novel drew me in to such an extent where I understood the concepts of her characters' religion and the internal struggle they face when it comes to making various choices within themselves and how those choices are reflected to the outside world.  

Before I get to deep and you fall asleep, Boy vs Girl is such an interesting novel.  It is about family, heritage, religion but mostly it is about choices and trust. It is an intelligent modern novel that really hit me hard when it showed me teens in situations I recognise from being a teen, but added to that are the (more) strict religious aspects of their daily lives and the importance of family in this instance.  The sense of community the novel portrays is both endearing as well as scary.  There is a luxuriousness to the descriptions of family meals and spending time together that is so exotic that you can close your eyes and smell the spices.

The synopsis gives an adequate description of what happens within the story and anything more will be spoilery and to be honest, it is such a great book, I would recommend it to be read by as many people as possible.  For its story and its heart, Boy vs Girl is one of the most difficult stories I have read because it has taught me a lot about the way I was brought up to perceive the world.

You can tell that the author has put so much of her heart into the novel and her characters.  Their dialogue and language rings true, as does the way they act around each other and towards their friends and family.  This unexpected little book is a true gem and I hope it gets a wide audience.  I'd recommend Boy vs Girl to the upper ranges of our Under 14's Only readers, along with some parents.  It makes for very interesting reading.

I've not been able to find a website for the author, but find the Francis Lincoln website here.

I thought I'd add these other reviews for Boy Vs Girl too, to show that it's not just me who is smitten with the books.

From Fluttering Butterflies

From Keren David's Website

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Out of the Woods by Lyn Gardner



The fun fair is in town! With its clouds of pink candy floss and whirling big wheel, what child could resist such temptation? Little do the Eden sisters know that they are being lured into a wicked witch s lair. . . . Belladonna wants Aurora's heart and Storm's all-powerful musical pipe, and she will stop at nothing to get them. Driven by vanity and greed, she makes a truly formidable adversary.

After escaping from a deadly game of hide-and-seek in the enchanted fair, our three heroines flee through the woods, with several ravenous wolves and a sweet-toothed lion hot on their heels. Now they face their biggest challenge yet: a treacherous journey into the Underworld. For only when the pipe has been safely returned to the land of the dead will the Eden sisters truly be out of the woods. . . .


What's really fun about Out of the Woods is that you are very quickly caught up with what has gone before, making this an almost-standalone novel which you can tackle with ease.

As in Into the Woods, the three sisters are lead astray and into a lot of trouble. Here, we have the relative of one of the previous baddies' come back for revenge. And you get the distinct impression that the witch Belladonna is far far meaner and more intelligent than deWilde from the previous book. I mean, let's face it: women are by FAR more ruthless as villains, they are also great to write and Ms. Gardner looks like she had a whale of a time playing with Belladonna.

Belladonna is interested in Aurora for her heart. With the heart of "the fairest in all the land" she can renew her youth and take revenge on behalf of her sister Storm and Aurora killed. Belladonna also wants that pesky flute that Storm tossed away but it has somehow made its way back into her ownership again.

Storm's big quest this time around is to travel to the Land of the Dead in search of Pandora's Box, from which the flute was taken in the first place.

As in Into the Woods what is central to the story is how the three sisters always have each other's back. Their motto of "Forever and Always" binds them together and it is a theme that is returned to often. I also think it is a very positive motto to have and what I like about Storm especially is like great action heroes in books and movies, she is constantly moving forward, thinking ahead (or sometimes just acting on gut instinct) but the onward momentum is kept high and constant. I like that and I approve of it for heroines and heroes.

These two books, Into the Woods and Out of the Woods have become firm favourites on my bookshelf. And books I'd recommend to younger and older readers alike. Again I'd recommend it to both boy and girl readers as I feel boys and girls will enjoy the Eden sisters' adventures of daring-do. And of course, the illustrations by the incomparable Mini Grey is just excellent and tongue in cheek amusing.

In fact, I am so excited about these two books, I've asked the publicity girls at Random House to please let me have copies to give away…and they've agreed.

**COMPETITION**

Very simply, tell me what is your favourite fairy tale - it can be Western, European, Russian, Chinese, Japanese etc. There will be a random draw on the 30th for the winner. Entrants from the UK only and again, you may enter as many times as you like!

Friday, September 24, 2010

My So-Called Haunting by Tamsyn Murray



Skye, a fourteen-year-old who can see ghosts, is very stressed. Not only is the ghost of a sixteenth-century witch giving her fashion tips, but she’s struggling to settle into life with her auntie, and is developing a crush on the most unattainable boy in the school, Nico.

When her aunt asks her for help with a troubled teen ghost called Dontay, she’s glad of the distraction. But then Nico starts paying her attention, and she’s soon facing a battle to keep her love life and her psychic life separate.

As things get ever more complicated, it looks as though Dontay’s past may cost Skye her future.


This was a bit of a departure for me – my usual fare is miles away from climbing inside the head of a 14 year old girl. But then, half the fun behind the blog is trying new things. And besides which, Liz raved about Tamsyn’s previous offering, My So-Called Afterlife, so I figured why not..?

MSCH hits the ground running, and the first few pages set up Skye’s quirky family and her how she’s come to be at a new school, with all the attendant stresses that are part & parcel of that kind of move. It quickly sets the stage without being obvious about it and makes MSCH both accessible and enjoyable whether you’ve read the previous book or not.

Skye’s day to day life quickly dispels any notions that being able to see and communicate with ghosts is cool. Besides the usual troubles that come with school and peer pressure, she has to balance her gift and avoid being labeled a nutjob, not an easy task when the dead demand your attention. But when Nico, the handsome, somewhat mysterious boy that every girl fancies, takes a liking to her, things start looking up.

But her gift doesn’t care about her personal life, and it’s not long before things go from great to complicated (at best).

As a helper at her aunt Celestine’s halfway house for troubled spirits, both living and dead, she gets drawn into the unfinished story of Dontay, a murdered teenager. As she starts putting the pieces together, it becomes clear that the repercussions of Dontay’s death have yet to run their course, while Nico’s mysterious nature also starts coming into focus, revealing far more than she ever dreamed -or feared. There’s a real sense of things spiralling out of control as her life and psychic gift collide in unexpected ways.

Amongst all of this she has to deal with the prudish, disapproving ghost of a sixteenth century witch, jealous love rivals, detention, and helping Jeremy avoid the obsessive attentions of a lonely suicide victim.

Tamsyn’s crammed a lot into MSCH, but handles it all with a light, fun touch and a pragmatic sensitivity that counteracts the darker themes it touches on. More than anything, it has that extra something that makes you want to read just one more page before you put it down.

I’m happy to admit that I enjoyed more than I was expecting to, and I’m definitely keen to get my hands on the next one..

Ps. More Nico please!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Bloomsbury Glee

How could I not blog this today? Bloomsbury UK get their Glee on in this video which is just pure magic.

Also, the guy at the end, in the red shirt, that's MFB friend and publicist Ian Lamb. It just makes me laugh. So fun.

Don't stop believing, folks!


Edited to add: looks like this link is now no longer working. Which is sad. As it was an amazing vid.

The Battle for Gullywith by Susan Hill


Synopsis

A stone army, an enchanted castle, mysterious ancient powers – and some very clever tortoises – Olly finds there’s more than meets the eye at Gullywith.

When his family moves to Gullywith Farm, Olly just can’t imagine being happy in his new home. Gullywith is the coldest house in the world and no one has lived there for years. Then Olly meets KK and she tells him locals won’t go near the place. It seems to be jinxed ... but most strange of all, Olly notices that there are stones at Gullywith that can move around of their own accord. Stones with ancient markings on them. He feels sure that they are angry.

Olly visits the mysterious Nonny Dreever to ask his advice and he tells them they must return the stones to Withern Mere. Olly is drawn into a world of myth, magic and midnight adventure deep inside the surrounding hills. What is the ancient power that controls the stones and can anything be done to end their hold over Gullywith?


I was excited to read this as it's by the fabulous Susan Hill. With high expectations I started reading and was whirled into Olly's world. Olly was happy with his life at 58 Wigwell Avenue in London and doesn't understand why his parents are desperate to move to a dark, cold house that they've bought at auction. Unfortunately, he has no say in where they live so he's packed into the car with his little sister Lula. Once installed at Gullywith he finds rooms where stones seem to gather, stones with weird inscriptions on them. He soon meets KK, a girl who lives over the hill and Nonny Dreaver a man who lives on a house on stilts full of bats and the odd tortoise. The stones believe that Gullywith belongs to them which means that Olly and his family aren't welcome there.

I loved that there are two stories in Gullywith. One shows Olly's parents following their dream by taking their family to the country and living their idyllic lifestyle. As with most things the reality isn't quite what they imagined. Obviously not understanding the magical powers that are gripping their home they see the floods, mould and collapsing walls as signs that they've made a mistake. Just as Olly finds that he can't bear to leave they are considering their next move. One of the strongest themes that runs through this book is the way that Olly is loved and cared for but his parents are completely unaware of what drives him. They arrange a, "play date," with the awful Mervyn oblivious to the fact that they hate each other. The mysterious world of children carrys on unnoticed by both parents. There are adults who are, "in" on the mystery like the Merlin-esque Nonny and the mysterious book seller.

The other story shows the reality that the parents can't see; a battle between Olly, Nonny, KK and the stones for Gullywith. This becomes more dangerous as the story progresses. There's real menace and some chilling scenes throughout. Even the local fair quickly becomes threatening as a storm errupts and Olly and his friends are chased away.

Refreshingly, Olly isn't interested in computers like his dad but is obsessed with maps like his grandad. KK and her brother Zed often wake Olly in the middle of the night by throwing stones at his window. There are no mobile phones and the only time Olly watches TV is when he's visiting Mervyn's hideous sanitised house. This gives the whole book a slightly old-fashioned feel, but it's made all the more wonderful for it. Olly starts the book with, "London legs," worried by how far he's walking but becomes more resilient and resourceful by the end.

I loved this book. It's magical and a real escape. I regularly re-read Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising books and have never found anything that has the same mix of adventure and a feel for folk law and tradition. I found it in The Battle for Gullywith and hope that there's a sequel. I'm always looking out for tortoises too, they're very wise you know.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Guest Blog: Lyn Gardner, talking wolves and fairy tales


After my review yesterday of Into the Woods, here then is the guest blog by author and arts reviewer, Lyn Gardner - she wot wrote Into the Woods. We are very fond of fairy tales here on MFB, reworked ones, ones made into movies and ones that can be told and retold. Which is why it is such a pleasure reading this guest blog. I hope you enjoy it too!

**

*picture taken from First People Website
I’ve always loved a wolf. From Little Red Riding Hood to a well thumbed copy of Russian folk tales and Joan Aitkin’s thrilling The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, my childhood reading was full of wolves. So perhaps it was inevitable that when I began to write my first novel, Into the Woods, I knew that it would feature wolves.

Not, of course, that I immediately realised that I was writing a novel. There had already been too many half-hearted attempts to start that had petered out after the first couple of thousand words to really imagine that I might ever finish a book.

I first wrote about Storm Eden, and her housework-mad sister Aurora and baby sister Any (short for Anything) encountering wolves in the woods around their home, Eden End, while sitting on Bristol railway station late one winter’s night. It was freezing cold, the last train back to London had been delayed by over an hour and it had began to snow. Perhaps it was the snow that made me think of wolves.

At that stage I only had the vaguest of idea of who these sisters were (although I knew that Storm with her red hair was brave, reckless and stormy, like her name) and I didn’t know why they were being chased by wolves. The Pied Piper figure, the wicked Dr DeWilde, only began to take shape later, rising like a spectre from folk-lore and half remembered stories and nightmares. But on that deserted railway platform close to midnight, the sisters suddenly started to come alive on a sheet of A4 paper as they tried to desperately avoid being eaten by wolves. The section of the story I wrote in pencil that night eventually made it into the published version of Into the Woods pretty well intact, and although by that time it wasn’t the beginning of the story, it always felt as if it was close to its dark heart.

Perhaps from wolves it was always going to be a short leap to fairytales. But the re-imagined fairytale format also provided a useful crutch for a fledgling writer who didn’t have much confidence in her own ability to come up with strong narrative ideas. The stories I’d made up at bedtime for my own daughters frequently used fairytale templates, and as an arts journalist on the Guardian I had often written about the hold of fairytales and myth on our imaginations from Beauty and the Beast to JM Barrie’s terrible masterpiece, Peter Pan.

Using fairytales allowed me to build on what I had already began, and without them that first scene of the sisters escaping from the woods may have joined all those others scribbled pages of novels began, but never continued or finished, in the waste paper bin. But a few months later as we were setting off on a family holiday to visit our American cousins I came across the scene in the woods with the wolves and vowed to take it with me. My daughters (then seven and 11) had long pestered me to write a children’s novel, and I told them that during the holiday I would write them a chapter every night and read it aloud at bedtime to them and their cousins who ranged in age from 10 to 14.

It was a brilliant way to really kick-start a first novel. Not only did I have around 15,000 handwritten words on our return to England, but I’d also had something that money can’t buy any writer: a captive audience of children in the age range for whom you are writing to try your book out on as you are in the very act of writing it. I soon got a real sense of what held their attention and what didn’t, the jokes they laughed at and the ones that fell flat, and I suspect it’s no accident, given Into the Wood’s oral origins, that so many parents and teachers have since told me how well the novel reads aloud.

Pied Piper - Artwork by Arthur Rackham

The hard graft, of course, began on my return to London. Like a lot of would-be authors I liked the idea of being writer more than I enjoyed actually the prospect of sitting in front of a computer screen and putting words into sentences that eventually become paragraphs and chapters. As the number of words began to grow, I suddenly dared to imagine that for the first time in my life I was actually going to finish a book. Continuing to read what I had written aloud to my children really helped, and I had a real boost after sending off the first 25,000 words to an agent, Rosemary Canter at United Agents (then PFD) who was hugely enthusiastic and told me to hurry up and finish it by Christmas. After that, the more I wrote, the easier it became to write, as the story and the characters took on a life of their own almost rolling out in front of my eyes like a movie as the sisters crossed glaciers, fell down mine shafts, took part in spelling contests and defeated the wily Dr DeWilde.

I wanted to show the girls taking risks, breaking rules and having real adventures while celebrating the ups and downs of sisterhood and family life and relationships. As a sister of sisters and the mother of daughters I felt it was something that I knew about, and one of the pleasures of being a published author (which I can still hardly believe) has been the fan letters I’ve received about Into the Woods, and its sequel Out of the Woods, not just from children in the 8-12 age range but from their elder sisters and mothers too saying that they recognize its portrait of siblings.
**
Thanks so much to Lyn for stopping by! Now if reading this article and my reviews (which are ace!) don't want to make you pick up reading these two books, I don't know what will. Stop by tomorrow for my review of Out of the Woods and a cracking chance to win these two books.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Into the Woods by Lyn Gardner


Synopsis:

Taking inspiration from numerous fairytales and weaving them into a wholly original story, INTO THE WOODS is a whirlwind of a novel, full of imaginative happenings, dastardly deeds and thrilling adventure.

Our guides are sisters three: Storm, Aurora and Anything Eden. Accidentally orphaned and left to fend for themselves in a decaying mansion on the edge of the wilds, they come to the very much unwanted attention of the sinister Dr DeWilde: a scar-faced gentleman with a pied waistcoat and an unhealthy interest in rats. He's after a tiny little musical pipe that Storm has inherited, and he'll stop at nothing to get it.

Fleeing into the woods, our courageous and eccentric sisters evade kidnap (almost), resist the temptation of sweet-filled orphanages (nearly!), and begin a treacherous journey across raging rivers, over mountains of ice, through deathly silent ghost towns and beyond the lairs of child-eating ogresses. With ravenously hungry wolves snapping at their heels every step of the way!

Featuring wonderful illustrations by award-winning illustrator Mini Grey, INTO THE WOODS is a classic tale with a very modern twist and will delight readers of every generation.

I had doubts about Into the Woods. I looked at the cover (done by Mini Grey) and the artwork within and thought: am I ready for this? It looks incredibly twee and I'm not fond of twee. I girded myself and stepped in.

First of all, Into the Woods is anything but twee - actually, I should quantify that and say I thought it would be self-conscious and purposefully sweet and ditzy. All because of a) the cover which I didn't initially like and b) the actual write up on the story, making me think it was going to be a parody of some fairy tale.

However, within the first few pages I realised that my preconceptions was once again WRONG. It is dark and humorous and probably too clever for its own good.

I spent a lot of time checking out the artwork by Mini that accompanies the written words on the pages. Clever little drawings that enhance the overall narrative and gives the reader a chance to discover more about the story they are reading.
Storm is the character in the book I identified with the most. She is wild, impetuous, seems to know better but often does not, and is a bit dangerous to know and obsessed with firecrackers. She also doesn't listen to her sister Aurora telling her not to go into the forest which is dark and dangerous. Aurora is a studious daughter, taking care of the household whilst her mother languishes and sighs to herself. Their father is equally rubbish at being a parent - wrapped up in his various quests to find mythological creatures. He really annoyed me and I disliked the girls for making excuses for him when he literally crumpled after his wife died in giving birth to Any. Then he stayed around for a bit, after Any's birth, but he was no use to anyone. Then he disappeared off on another quest by himself, leaving the very young girls with no money and no one to take care of them!

But then, Aurora and Storm are no ordinary girls. Storm's adventures are crazymad and she dislikes being cooped up. During one of her previous rambles, she discovered that the nearby town has hired a nasty man called Dr. DeWilde to get rid of the rat infestation. The doctor uses his trained wolves to pounce on and kill the rats in question - not pleasant. But there is something very odd about DeWilde and Storm senses it. It's not long till DeWilde comes to their house to ask them about a flute/pipe which Zella, their mother, had given over to Storm for safekeeping on her deathbed. The fact that she chooses Storm to be caretaker of this flute is significant and although Storm is initally charmed by the flute, she doesn't have much use for it and soon it is lying in the pantry, gathering dust.

And from there onwards, we have the girls thrust into all manner of nasty situations that reads like mish-mash of fairy tales from Grimm, Carter, Perrault combined. There are witches, an ogress, lots of wolves, narrow escapes, mountains to climb, villains to see off and a sister (or two) to rescue. It's a busy story and once things were being laid out I thought that I may get lost in all the adventure, but I'm happy to report that each bit of adventure is it's own adventure - does that make sense? - and that the plotting of the overall story is very good.

It didn't take me very long at all to fall for Into the Woods and Lyn Gardner's writing. It's charming and funny with larger than life villains and some utterly over the top situations blended with smatterings of the familiar fairy tales we all know and love, so well.

I'd recommend this for readers say 11+ who like their heroines unconventional and the storytelling vivid and bright. I'd also hasten to add that although the book has three female characters as leads, it is a very boy-friendly book, from the adventure aspect of it all, along with the creepiness that sometimes rears its head. And there is fighting and explosions. Because this is Lyn Gardner, after all.

Into the Woods and it's companion novel, Out of the Woods, is out now from Random House. I'll also be reviewing Out of the Woods and I'm very happy to have Lyn on the blog tomorrow as she's written us an amazing guest blog. So stick around for that.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Young Samurai: The Ring of Earth by Chris Bradford

Synopsis

Jack Fletcher is on the run.

With no sensei to guide him, he has just his wits and his swords against many new and unknown enemies, as he journeys along the treacherous road to the port of Nagasaki and perhaps home...

But the Shogun's samurai are hot on his trail. Barely escaping their clutches, Jack runs headlong into a trap. Kidnapped by ninja and led to their village deep in the mountains, Jack has no means of escape.

The only question is who will kill him first - the ninja or samurai?

As I haven't read any of the earlier instalments in the Young Samurai series I was unsure if I'd be able to jump in. However, courtesy of a letter to his sister at the beginning, I was up to speed with Jack's journey so far. The book opens headfirst into the action with Jack trying to keep a low profile and get out of the country. However, he's wanted and is soon on the run from other samurai straight into a village of ninjas. Jack's father was killed by a notorious ninja and so he finds that he has to reconcile his feelings and judge those around him by their actions rather than their reputation.

The ninja village is hidden in the mountains, almost impossible to find. Jack decides to stay to learn new skills and hide from the patrolling samurai seeking him out. I found Jack an interesting character; he's thoughtful and caring which is not at all what I expected. There's plenty of high action and gore, some brilliant fighting scenes. Much as I loved these I also enjoyed Jack's growing respect and friendship with Soke the Grandmaster of the village. Soke has a wealth of information to share, not all of which Jack takes on board at the time. Alongside all of this it's clear that not everyone in the village is happy to welcome the stranger as Jack has to battle for respect and acceptance.

High action and intrigue aside I'm pleased to have read and enjoyed this book. One massive reason for this is that it gives me another series to recommend to boys who've finished reading Percy Jackson or Skulduggery Pleasant. I often get parents in the library desperate for any recommendation for their sons and I have a good list of authors that I'd recommend but am always looking for new ones. The Young Samurai series is perfect for the 8-12 age group. There's a warning on the back regarding the scenes of violence but there's more to the series than this and I didn't find them out of place or gratuitous.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Random Amazing News AND a Competition

I've been struck down with a rubbish cold and didn't go to work yesterday or today. However, I've checked in on twitter to see how all my mates are doing and suddenly there was this spate of congratulations from a variety of people!

Followed the link and would you believe it? MFB is number 3 of the Top 10 UK Teenage Literature Blogs! How awesome and cool is that?

And you know what is even more fantastic? All my fellow blogger friends are on there too and some new ones I have not heard of. So, this is the list below, copied from CISION's site:


1. So Many Books, So Little Time

2. I Was A Teenage Book Geek

3. My Favourite Books

4. Fluttering Butterflies

5. I Want To Read That

6. THE CROOKED SHELF

7. Once Upon a Bookcase

8. Teenage Fiction for All Ages

9. THe sweet BONJOUR

10. Dead Book Darling

But that is not all. They also have a Top 10 UK Children's Literature Blogs and even MORE of my friends are on there:

1. Wondrous READS

2. ACHOCKABLOG

3. THE BOOKETTE

4. Seven Miles of Steel Thistles

5. The Puffin Blog

6. THE MG HARRIS BLOG

7. The Fairy Tale Cupboard

8. Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

9. THE ULTIMATE BOOK GUIDE

10. Tommy Donbavand Children's Author

Looking at these twenty blogs I can't help but grin widely. And feel so proud of MFB being part of it all. Everyone, keep up the absolutely awesome hard work you are doing! And to celebrate I think there shall be a random book giveaway.

So, this is open to all of the UK to win a copy of Unhooking the Moon by Gregory Hughes. All you need to do is comment below and tell me one of your favourite books you've read this year - it can be any genre, any age group. The competition will close on Monday, 20th. You can enter as many times as you like.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell


Synopsis:

THE STORY BEGINS in the first volume of Hiccup's How to Train Your Dragon memoirs...

Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III was an awesome sword-fighter, a dragon-whisperer and the greatest Viking Hero who ever lived. But it wasn't always like that. In fact, in the beginning, Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III was the most put upon Viking you'd ever seen. Not loud enough to make himself heard at dinner with his father, Stoick the Vast; not hard enough to beat his chief rival, Snotlout, at Bashyball, the number one school sport and CERTAINLY not stupid enough to go into a cave full of dragons to find a pet... It's time for Hiccup to learn how to be a Hero.


I genuinely looked forward to reading this. It was sent to me in advance of the movie and for ages I kept not reading it thinking I'd like to see the movie and then read the book.


In the end, I've not yet seen the movie, but I have read the book and I don't know what's wrong with me, but I genuinely didn't enjoy it.


I liked the main character quite a bit, Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third. Funny, spunky little kid, destined to be bullied by everyone else in their clan, he didn't seem much of a hero. But he does reveal his hero-spirit in the end, which is pretty cool.


What I had a problem with was the other characters in the book, specifically their names, which were all clearly chosen to be tongue in cheek and funny. But I didn't find it amusing, at all. Who and what they are as characters, should have been indicated by their actions and not by throwing truly odd names at the reader. I also didn't find the story plausible - I know, I am crazy! I've been dithering about writing this review but thought that I really should for my own sanity. I realise it has been massively popular and I love that kids are reading these and loving it. If it encourages them to continue reading the rest of the books and gradually move on to others, then by all means, that's an excellent thing.


Sadly I just think that me and How to Train Your Dragon just did not get along. And I wish it wasn't so. I know that I should really like this book, but it's just not happening. I couldn't even finish it, not feeling that spark at all. Although, having said that, I came as close as page 210 out of 223. I just didn't care enough for that final small push. I do however promise to read it again soon and finish it. Maybe I was expecting something else altogether - I think a re-read will set me right, but in the meantime, feel free to set me right in the comments!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Book of Bones by Natasha Narayan



Synopsis:


Kit Salter and her friends Rachel, Waldo and Isaac tumble into another adventure when their coach is hijacked on the wilds of Dartmoor. Their arch enemies, the Baker Brothers, are behind the kidnapping. They force the children into a perilous voyage to China in search of a secret martial arts manual. From bustling Shanghai, their journey takes them to the hidden heart of Imperial China – Peking's Forbidden City. En route they battle opium smugglers, pirates and kung-fu fighters, before a climatic encounter with the mysterious Wooden Men, giant killers armed with lethal powers and a dastardly will of their own. Will Kit and her friends survive the danger and mysteries of China and win back their freedom? Find out in this twisting, thrilling adventure.


I am back to tell you about the third Kit Salter adventure, Book of Bones. In the Mummy Catcher of Memphis and the Maharajah's Monkey we got to meet Kit and her group of friends. I loved Mummy Catcher a lot, whilst Maharajah's Monkey was good fun but I didn't love it as much. However, in Book of Bones, poor Kit and her friends are thrust into the heart of a nightmare. When their coach is hijacked, complete with their dippy new governess Kit, Waldo, Isaac and Rachel are non-plussed. What exactly is going on? Who are the villains?


This answer is soon revealed. In Maharajah's Monkey, Kit came across the Baker Brothers, a nasty pair of brothers who have been dabbling in magics no human should attempt to play around with. These two are in fact the ones who abducted Kit and her friends, using their governess as the one to lure them out.


In an adventure that sees the friends travelling from England to China then onward into the heart of China to an ancient monastery in order to find the mysterious Book of Bones, the group faces being poisoned, shot at, chased, called assassins and all manner of other things. But the fact remains that one of the group was actually poisoned and is to die, if the antidote is not taken. This is the Baker Brothers' plan to ensure they return to them with the Book of Bones.


I loved this little book - it is so deceptive; it looks small in size but the writing and the adventure is huge and full blown. Kit Salter is a fantastic heroine. The writing is good and it really flows well. Kit's friends, Waldo, Rachel and Isaac are sweet kids, and there are glimmers of them developing very much into their own creatures with Kit, the heroine, being the strongest character by far.


Set in a time when the opium trade was at its height, where people could be kidnapped and mysterious aunts worked for the government, the novel really "harkens" back to a different era. The enormous amount of research that went into this is hardly perceptible. We get snippets of information about China, the opium trade, the socio-political goings on etc. but honestly, it never overshadows the story. It enhances the background but never intrudes and it is for that reason that I think Natasha Narayan is a bit of a legend. We learn, without realising that we're learning.


An excellent book to curl up with on a dark evening. It is geared towards confident young readers and may very well get a look into by reluctant readers. If for nothing else, the overall adventure and the cliff-hanger ending. It is driving me to distraction not knowing what's going to happen. I realise it's greedy of me, but I can't help it. It's just out and I am already impatiently waiting for the next one. Yes, I'm a brat, but I'm allowed to be. So there.


I also apologise for the short review - I am not being purposefully vague this time around, it is a pretty involved plot and I am loathe to give away spoilers of The Book of Bones but needless to say it is aces. As an action adventure book nut, this one holds its own (and is in fact better) against some adult action adventure novels in the ilk of Paterson, Brown, Gibbins. Oh, the one thing I did want to say is: even if you've not had the chance to read the previous two books, you can pick up The Book of Bones and read it without concern about the backstory - the readers very quickly and adeptly gets filled in on what has gone before, but only as it pertains to this story. So you can go back and read the others retrospectively.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

This Weekend - Part 2.1

All I can say is: if we ever have to move...I am hiring people to do the packing. All I can move right now are my arms. My back and legs have seized up from all the hefting and boxing. But, boy - what an amazing sense of accomplishment. We have packed 20 boxes and it totals up to 604 books. We have double that left on the shelves!

Now for that tour around the shelves that are done. The final bookshelf in the dining room and the three next door, in the lounge.

Checkit:

This is our completed full length bookcase in the dining room. A lot of my picture books on here and a lot of books for younger readers. Many of these are being reviewed this month, especially for Roald Dahl Day too!



This is Mark's bookshelf. Unfortunately we ran out of boxes and packing space, so sadly we had to double-stack all his Warhammer/Black Library books again. These however, when unpacked, take up the entire bookcase. They also look incredibly pretty. In fact, he has so many of Dan Abnett's books, I think that maybe we will have to rename it the Abnett Bookshelf.




Unfortunately, because of our very large (plush and scrummy) couches, there are some bookshelves I can actually get into with the camera so these piccies will have to do. We have put our Jim Butchers, Mike Careys and Neil Gaiman's on display. Mike and Neil G's books are all signed editions. Soon, all those Karen Miller books will also be signed as I am a big fan and she's in the UK in October. Oh, also some of our comics and graphic novels above. And Mark's Punisher collection. Geeky, much?



This also has some of my action / adventure books. The others are all hardbacks and packed away in a chest.



See the shelf with The Passage on it? That shelf is some of our signed editions. Due to Big Yellow Storage closing early today, we couldn't get back in time for more boxes so our other signed editions are double stacked over at Mark's Black Library bookcase. Woe!





And that's it. A work in progress. Once we get more boxes, more books will go into storage and we can tackle the bookshelves upstairs. That should be in two weekends time. Wish us luck.


Mark relaxing with Kick Ass GN after a long hard day of shelving and stacking.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

This Weekend - Part 1

Boxes in the lounge! How am I going to watch TV??

Wow, my friends, this weekend Mark and I have come to a really big decision. That is to go through all our books, both read and unread, and to put some of them into storage due to space issues within the tiny tardis house.

I realised last night after chatting to the lovely Peter F Hamilton that Mark and I have been running MFB for around four, almost five years. And it's time to be realistic about all our gorgeous books. And to realise that having the shelves double and sometimes triple stacked, is not a good idea.

So, we popped by Big Yellow Storage this morning to check with them regarding space and costs and they were incredibly sweet and genial and within minutes we were sorted with a room, a LOT of boxes and advice.

It is now just before seven and I have just closed the lid on ten boxes of books that we have read and loved these past few years, that we want to keep but no longer have space for. We are being so organised, we even have spreadsheets of what is in each box. And each spreadsheet tells us how many books are in each box. The tally is 270 books thus far. Ten boxes, 270 books. That is pretty impressive. But, having said that, say around 60% of these books are ones we bought back in the days before we even knew about blogging and reviewing. I have worked my way through 3 bookcases with Mark doing the logging in of books.

Tomorrow, we are due to do a further 4, maybe 6 bookcases. I think we may need more boxes. I also have a pile of books that I have read and liked, but not loved. These will be donated to the library. I will also be joining BookCrossing and will be releasing them into the wild.

I feel so incredibly positive about restacking the shelves so that we only have single rows. It's also made the dining room appear so much bigger, suddenly. Oh! And, what we're doing is creating a bookshelf / bookcase for all our signed editions of our books. There are a lot of them but boyo, I cannot wait to brag with these.

I have to apologise for this very intensely personal blog on MFB but it is about books and we all love books. So here is the tour through the newly single row(ed) bookcases in the dining room. None of the shelves are ordered - it's usually just a case of which books fit together through size. We were considering doing them in genres or even by publisher but I just did not have the energy to do that. One day, when we are living in our HUGE mansion with library, we can then have it installed in this fashion.


These are the first two shelves you see when you walk into the dining room. It is not a full bookshelf as we have our beautiful glasses, champagne and Mark's whisky collection on display in this book case too.



Full bookcase - this is the one that was triple stacked. Seeing it single stacked is making me feel a bit twitchy. But I love being able to look at it and see the entire bookcase without having to pull out books in the front.


This is a lovely tall book case (pic above) that houses our hi-fi and cd collection too. So sadly, it's not a full of books bookcase, but it's close, 3 shelves out of 5. I have tried keeping series together, at least.
The final bookshelf - and the one that almost killed me. As I knelt down in front of it, the 7ft tall pile of books stacked between the two bookcases came tumbling down. Ouchie. But it encouraged me to get a move on. And I did. There is now nothing left of the 7ft book pile. I have one full double/triple stacked book case to sort out in here the dining room, tomorrow and also 2 three foot stacks of books.

Then we're moving next door, to the lounge, the book case on the landing and also the book case in the second bedroom. I hope I haven't bored you to tears. But I wanted somewhere to record this as it is - for me, at least - a huge step. I have to thank Mark for putting the idea in my head. Now I want to do all of it at once!

Check back tomorrow for the progress of the lounge and the upstairs of the tiny tardis house.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Michael Rosen's Big Book of Bad Things



Synopsis

The arrival of a new poetry collection from one of Britain's greatest children's poets Michael Rosen is always cause for great excitement - and this collection promises to be one of the best. Coinciding with his laureateship and very welcome public promotion of the need for children's poetry in our education system, this brand-new collection of poetry for Puffin will delight readers young and old with Michael's famous sense of humour, wonder and pathos.

When I was eight I don't remember loving poetry much. The ones we used to do at school never seemed to grab my attention in the same way as a great story, a character that I could follow through amazing adventures. I'm guessing that this would have been different if I'd known about Michael Rosen back then. He was first published in 1974 so I have no excuse really!


This collection of poems is diverse; there are entertaining ones, funny ones but also very stark ones like We're Walking or Perhaps. Some of the poems address issues such as being unable to move on and let go (Please Leave) which gives great advice for any age group. Many of the poems are funny and quirky and would be great read out loud like What's in Your Bag? Rosen's wordplay makes these poems a joy to read. This is also a great collection for reluctant readers which could be dipped into on-and-off.


I'll leave you with one of my favourites: -


The Tents

The tents were worried it was going to rain.

The tents were tense.

We said,

"Relax tents, relax."

But these tents were tense

They were so intense.



Perhaps

the tents were worried about us.

Would we get wet?

After all,

we were in tents.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

How Ali Ferguson saved Houdini by Elen Caldecott


Synopsis


Ali Ferguson has just moved into Lever Tower with his mum. It’s not long before he meets Caitlin and the Alsatian dog she looks after, Falcon, who doesn’t take too kindly to being walked on a lead. Caitlin introduces Ali to her best friend, Gez, and together the three set out to discover, firstly, why the foxes have disappeared from the area, secondly, why the owls have appeared and, thirdly, why Miss Osborne has, it seems, vanished . . . And how exactly her disappearance is related to the previous two.With the help of his friends and, significantly, Caitlin’s dad, Ali and his mum begin to feel comfortable and happy in their new life without Ali’s dad.


It took me ages - stupidly - to realise that Elen Caldecott is also the author of How Kirsty Jenkins stole the elephant . I really enjoyed HKJSTE and am happy to report that How Ali Ferguson Saved Houdini is an equally cracking book for younger readers.

The language is fun and very easy to read. It calls to be read aloud in a class or before night time. I also think readers of around eight or nine, who want a bit of mystery of their own, would do well to pick this up to read solo. Even I felt a sense of accomplishment when I put it aside after closing the covers for the last time.

Ali Ferguson is my kind of kid - active, funny, charming, clever, imaginative and full of life. I loved the relationship he has with his mum, Anita. She sounds exotically beautiful and did a lot of smiling and laughing with Ali, which won me over. I have noticed that a lot of parents scold and shout in kids books, but few enough of them laugh and joke with their kids.

When Ali and his mum move to Lever Tower he did not expect a lot of excitement. Life at his Nan's and Granddad's house was pretty sedate. We are quickly filled in that his dad had left to travel to India and that it's only Ali and his mum. But, instead of bitterness and recrimination taking hold of the book, both Ali and his mum are chirpy and positive about their new move.

Ali makes friends with the moody and slightly socially awkward Caitlin who sounds like she prefers Falcon, the dog, for company. Caitlin lives in the same tower of flats as Ali, but on the higher floor. She is also in a single parent family and her dad is called Dave. Dave is a big balding guy with tattoos, so not really someone you would really want to be around. And this is where Ms. Caldecott's cleverness comes in - she takes what we perceive when we see a person for the first time (or several times) and we may think "oh no, bad guy, stay away" and tilts it neatly on its head. But more of that later.

When Dave doesn't get back from taking Falcon out for his late night walk, Caitlin runs to Ali's flat for help. Together with Anita, the two kids set out to find Caitlin's missing dad. They find him, slightly groggy near the river. Someone had attacked him. They help him to his flat and it is inevitable that these four people's lives will become meshed together somehow.

It is only when the kids meet Gez in his hide near the river and they find out that he saw the whole attack happen, that things get interesting very fast. Why is Dave so anxious about his attack? Why won't he speak to the doctors or the police and why are there rumours that he is in a gang? Everything points to Dave being a bit dodgy and unpleasant and it is only Caitlin's voice that that prevents all of us from deciding that yes, he is the bad man.

As Gez and the two new friends, Caitlin and Ali investigate matters they learn about a mysterious van that comes to the river at night. Someone comes in from the river and deposits something into the van and it then drives off and goes to the local pet store.

Well, needless to say, you can figure out what's going on, just from that. But it was great fun sticking it out with the kids as they went through a variety of set-ups and false alarms to eventually figure it all out.

Ms. Elen Caldecott is a very good writer and she got her characters in this one pitch perfect. I secretly quite liked Gez who is utterly thoughtless and as blunt as a brick through your window. There is no guile there, just honesty. I would love to meet these kids again in another adventure as I am pretty sure they are up to it.

The book ends on a wonderfully high note and I was smiling all along. I would recommend this to parents who have kids who may be reluctant readers but who are fond of animals, mysteries and adventure. It was a quick read for me - only a few hours - and the dialogue reads well and the chapters are snappy and short. It's definitely a keeper.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson


Synopsis:

It is 1910 and Maia, tragically orphaned at 13, has been sent from England to start a new life with distant relatives in Manaus, hundreds of miles up the Amazon. She is accompanied by an eccentric and mysterious governess who has secret reasons of her own for making the journey. Both soon discover an exotic world bursting with new experiences in this highly colourful, joyous and award-winning adventure.

I am thinking of changing this month's themed title from Under 14's Only to Books that Liz Should Have Read Ages Ago. Also, I apologise for any new obsessions that may result from reading this month's reviews. *evil laughter*

Ack! Another new to me author (you'll be seeing a lot of those this month) is Eva Ibbotson.

I have had her books on my shelves for ages and ages but somehow never got around to reading them. Until now that is.

Reading "Journey to the River Sea" reminded me of some books I read as a child. These books were old and musty and belonged to my dad and sat on the shelves unloved until I came to them. One I remember particularly well is where a group of young American kids go on holiday to an Eastern Block country and have tremendously fun but tidy adventures. There is an element of deep nostalgia about these books, as they were written in the 1940's / 1950's. And there was a sense of expectation and breathlessness about them that I loved. I have only come across one other book in a similar vein recently, and that was Dead Man's Cove by Lauren St John. And now, of course, Journey to the River Sea.

It is set in 1910 so we are in relatively modern(ish) times. There are such things as telegraphs and electricity. A lot of big discoveries have been made, several during the past century, but everything is still very different and new and although the world is shrinking it is still a big place. We have explorers going into the Amazon, discovering new plants and animals. Expeditions to far-flung places are still undertaken and local tribes in areas are still "savages" to us. Travelling long distance still takes a decent amount of time by ship and boat and there are carriages and empires to be built in foreign countries. Adventure definitely awaits anyone gutsy enough to put a foot out their door.

Bring in the lovely Maia who is this brilliantly heroic and intelligent main character. Having lost her parents in accident, she has been living in care for a little while now whilst the authorities try and find out her nearest relatives. Maia is the type of girl who is studious and honest and a good academic. She is thoughtful and sweet and a little bit mischievous. If she has a fault, it is that she is perhaps too trusting and too optimistic. When she hears that she does indeed have family, and that they are happy for her to come and live with them, she is excited. But when it becomes clear she is heading for the Amazon, she becomes a bit nervous. Her school mates all exaggerate the dangers of the Amazon, giving us a good close-up view of how some of us still see places like the Amazon.


'There are huge crocodiles in the rivers that can snap your head off in one bite. Only they're not called crocodiles, they're called alligators because their snouts are fatter, but they're just as fierce.''

"And if you just put one hand in the water there are these piranhas that strip all the flesh off your bones. Every single bit. They look just like ordinary fish but their teeth are terrible,' said Melanie.

Daisy offered a mosquito which bit you and gave you yellow fever. 'You turn as yellow as a lemon and then you die,' she said.'And it's so hot the sweat absolutely runs off you
in buckets.''

"Not sweat, dear, perspiration,' corrected Miss Carlisle.


But Maia is made of stronger stuff. After spending a night in their library, she comes away feeling stronger, more confident in her decision to go and live with her Uncle, his wife and two daughters, twins.

But she is not to go on her own. Her uncle has decreed that she should travel with a chaperone who is also to be her and her cousins' governess, Ms. Minton. Now, personally, when I heard this and initially read the description of Ms. Minton I thought "oh great, another miserable bizarre old spinster" but of course, I got shown up, because Ms. Minton, although she is unfortunate looking, has the soul and attitude of a survivor and explorer, loving books and discovering the world. Well, as much as you can on an underpaid wage.

Maia and Ms. Minton (Minty) become close during their extended sea journey. Maia is held rapt with thoughts of exploring the jungle, the exotic lives her cousins are leading in Manaus and adapting to living in the jungle where things only appear to be tamed.

Once Maia comes to meet her family, she's not sure if it's her of it it's them, because things are by no means what she expects. The twins are spoiled rotten and are mean, her uncle is a recluse, preferring to spend time in his study with his collection of false eyeballs (yes, you read that right) and her aunt is manipulative and obsessed with eradicating anything "foreign" from their house on the banks of the Amazon. She obsessively sprays insect repellent all over the house to keep the bugs out and refuses to acknowledge that she is in Brazil. She sees the locals as barbarians and are mean towards them. This is not the life either Minty or Maia expected.

But being who they are, they find a way around these things and soon Maia has the freedom to explore the jungle and her own creativity.

There is much I'm not telling, but let me just say that it is a wonderful bit of writing, with rich characters and in a way it is a love letter to Brazil and the jungle. There is a sub-plot with a lost English heir, some questionable actors who travelled to Manaus to perform in the opera house there and a whole tranche of other reveals that are just excellent.

I enjoyed Journey to the River Sea and will be reading The Ogre of Ogleford for later this month. Definitely try Eva Ibbotson if you've not had the chance to do so before. And just a further comment about the cover - the writing does the cover justice and vice versa. Am a bit smitten.