Saturday 26 November 2016

Australian fiction highlight

Dust, steam, grit and wonder. I am very much a fan of the Australian children's and YA fiction that is published in the UK. Of the novels we've reviewed on We Sat Down, all of them immediately transport you to to a different place. You can feel the dust, or the steamy rain. You can feel the grit and you can feel the magical and lyrical wonder. The Australian fiction that I love is a whole sensory experience. Here's a recap of the ones We Sat Down has featured:

We sat down for a chat......with Glenda Millard

Glenda Millard is the author of Australian novel The Stars at Oktober Bend, published in the UK by Old Barn Books. As part of our Carnegie 2017 theme, we asked her a few questions:

Australian Author Glenda Millard

Tuesday 22 November 2016

The Bone Sparrow – Zana Fraillon

The Bone Sparrow - Zana Fraillon
As far as refugee novels go, The Bone Sparrow presents an unusual perspective as it harnesses both the charming naivete of a young narrator as well as the world of dystopian novels: what if you were born inside a refugee detention centre and this was your bubble? And what if everybody else who lived with you didn’t see things inside the bubble as positively and magically as you do?

Sunday 20 November 2016

We sat down for a chat....with Kathryn Evans

Kathryn Evans' debut novel, More of Me, has been nominated for the 2017 Carnegie Medal and is the winner of the Edinburgh International Book Festival First Award 2016. More of Me is about Teva, a girl who every year, sheds her body, and now she's just stolen everything from Teva 15's life. 

Kathryn Evans, Diesel and a raspberry field

Thursday 17 November 2016

Beautiful Broken Things – Sara Barnard

Beautiful Broken Things - Sara Barnard
What happens when your best girl friend makes a new friend? Is three a crowd? And can there ever be more than one best? Beautiful Broken Things explores the dynamics between Caddy (private school introvert), Rosie (state school straight-talker) and newcomer Suzanne (beautiful miss perfect) in an intensely enthralling way.

Wednesday 16 November 2016

Alpha – Bessora and Barroux

Alpha - Bessora & Barroux (translated: Sarah Ardizzone)
Alpha is a book I would have on my coffee table, my reception area table, the boardroom table, the canteen, and definitely in every classroom or library: big, bold, great to look at, immediately immersive, whichever pages you are flicking through and something that I want everyone to see.

This is the story of Alpha, a cabinet maker who journeys from Abidjan (Cote d’Ivoire, Africa) to meet his family at the Gare Du Nord (Paris, France, Europe).  Along the way, he compares himself to a backpacking adventurer, although without a visa and dwindling cash, he finds that most other people regard him as an illegal immigrant.

Sunday 13 November 2016

Goodbye Stranger - Rebecca Stead

Goodbye Stranger - Rebecca Stead

Goodbye Stranger - Rebecca Stead
Goodbye Stranger has Rebecca’s Steads trademark wonky charm and many layered mysteries but there’s also a sharper and faintly more sinister edge that is reminiscent of Annabel’s Pitcher’s Ketchup Clouds.

Goodbye Stranger is a story about growing up, growing apart and having to sometimes say goodbye to things and people that held a very special place in your heart.  But, thankfully, it’s also all about saying hello to new things even if navigating your way around them is sometimes a confounding mystery, as many of the characters discover.

Friday 11 November 2016

The Twelve Days of Christmas – William Morris and Liz Catchpole

The Twelve Days of Christmas – William Morris and Liz Catchpole

The Twelve Days of Christmas - William Morris & Liz Catchpole
A pairing between the Victoria and Albert Museum for art and design and Puffin, The Twelve Days of Christmas is a sumptuous fabric covered giftbook.

The harbacked cover is a tactile pleasure, smooth to touch but still lightly textured. I ran my fingers lightly over it many times before I opened it. The pages, too, are a heavy and easy pleasure to turn, though long may you linger on them.

Wednesday 9 November 2016

The Wolves of Currumpaw – William Grill

The Wolves of Currumpaw – William Grill

The Wolves of Currumpaw - William Grill
 This book surprised me.

For sure, it is gorgeous. It is a big, oversized hardback with a lovely tactile cover. The illustrations, throughout, are fabulous, full of earthy colours and linestrokes and raw heart. There are plenty of full page pictures that just hold you in their space. It is definitely the illustrations that give this book its music.

The text, for me, was less immersive. It is non-fiction and its tone is matter of fact but I was a little dismissive of it. And then, something happens in the story, and I got annoyed with the text. And then, there’s a picture and then some text and then I cried, and suddenly I was all ears. Clever.

The Wolves of Currumpaw is set in nineteenth century, New Mexico. It lovingly tells the story of Lobo, a notorious grey wolf, and of Ernest Thompson Seton. It’s a story about change and how America’s wildlife conservation was started. Plus, it has a wonderful glossary giving both the word and its meaning for the images that repeatedly appear through the book. One of the most interesting glossaries I’ve seen in a long time (although, picture books aren’t something I’ve looked at for a while).

The book completely won me over. The Wolves of Currumpaw is a great big non-fiction triumph.

The Wolves of Currumpaw is nominated for both the 2017 Carnegie Medal and its sister award for illustrated books, the Kate Greenaway Medal. 

Publication details: Flying Eye Books, 2016, London, hardback

This copy: for review from the publisher

Monday 7 November 2016

Highly Illogical Behaviour – John Corey Whaley

Highly Illogical Behaviour – John Corey Whaley

Likely to be a novel that I recommend widely to a variety of people.

Highly Illogical Behaviour - John Corey Whaley
Solomon Reed hasn’t been outside for three years. He’s a sixteen year old agoraphobe, unable to cope with the displeasing complexities of the outside world, most probably other human beings. Lisa Praytor has a scholarship dream and a control problem. Put the two together and you have a potentially cheesy sitcom drama or you have a novel that is thoroughly entertaining and reflective. You might even get a friendship. Throw in Superman, Star Trek, a church-going summer camper, and things coming out of the closet, and you definitely get Highly Illogical Behaviour.

Solomon Reed is an adorable character. Like most of the crazy kids, there is much more to him than meets the eye – and even he doesn’t realise this. I thought that Lisa might have made the novel terribly annoying, but even she grew on me. I loved the way that the relationship between Lisa and her boyfriend, Clark, is turned on its stereotypical head when it comes to sex.

The novel is written in the third person, and I think this ramps up the humour level a little because the narrator throws in some background details that are exactly what we’d probably all be thinking but would never tell. The narrator alternates their attention between chapters for Solomon and Lisa buts puts in a lot of dialogue – and some of it is paragraphs long. But, you don’t notice this and the writing flows at a pacey rate.

One of my favourite lines from the novel (and yes, it’s on the book’s back jacket blurb): “Sometimes life just hands you the lemonade, straight up in a chilled glass with a little slice of lemon on top.” Sums the novel up perfectly, really.

If you like John Green’s writing and if you laughed out loud and fell in love with The Rosie Project, Highly Illogical Behaviour will probably also hit the sweet spot for you. It did for me.

Highly Illogical Behaviour has been nominated for the 2017 Carnegie Medal.

Publication details: Faber & Faber, 2016, London, paperback

This copy: review copy from the publisher

Sunday 6 November 2016

The Many Worlds of Albie Bright - Christopher Edge

The Many Worlds of Albie Bright - Christopher Edge
The Many Worlds of Albie Bright is a lovely little novel packed with lots of quantum physics and a lightheartedly warm approach to dealing with the raw grief in response to the loss of a very dearly loved parent. It’ll make you chuckle perhaps a little bit more than it will make you cry (which is probably a very good thing!).

Essentially, this is a story perfect for younger readers as a roundabout way of exploring grief (and a jolly good story, full stop). Albie’s mother has recently died from cancer. His parents were both physicists, and he thinks that he might be able to find his mum alive in a parallel universe. With a little help from CERN and a slowly blackening banana, Albie sets off to do just this.

Albie is a delightful character and he meets a castful of ‘interesting’ others (Alba was my favourite). His fantastic adventures paint a trail telling us that grieving and just getting on with it can be a difficult thing to do – whatever your age – and that everyone needs a little bit of time out too. The novel also gives a very big thumbs up to kitchen dancing (of which I'm a huge fan).

If you find yourselves enamoured by 'Back To the Future' or 'Groundhog Day', the humour in The Many Worlds of Albie Bright will definitely appeal to you.

And a little warning: if your child is reading this book, you’d best beef up on your basic quantum theory, otherwise…..well, rotten bananas!

Publication details: Nosy Crow, 2016, London, paperback
This copy: review copy from the publisher

The Many Worlds of Albie Bright has been nominated for the Carnegie Medal 2017.

Saturday 5 November 2016

London Belongs To Us - Sarra Manning

London Belongs To Us – Sarra Manning

London Belongs To Us - Sarra Manning
London Belongs To Us is a madcap all-night rush around London. Sunshine – or Sunny, as she’s known – has a pouffed up Afro and a pretty lush boyfriend. But oh-oh, looks like he’s been up to no good and she wants to sort his story – and herself – out!

Just as her name suggests, Sunny is a wonderfully warm character, as are many of the characters, including the effervescent French Godard boys. The novel, as a whole, is equally warm and dotted with humour throughout. It’s also packed full of quippy, teen dialogue that runs the risk of grating but it’s really oh-so-softly smooth.

Each chapter of the novel is preceded by a quirky checklist or graph – they’re quite fun. And each chapter begins with a few italicised paragraphs giving a bit of background to a specific area of London (so the novel takes you on a bit of a race around lots of its boroughs).  They were quite funny but they didn’t persuade me to love London in quite the way Sunny does (it's a big claim she makes and maybe I wanted her to open her arms a bit wider; I definitely ended up feeling a little bit more like Jean Luc).

London Belongs To Us is a sweet little escapade of a novel with great dialogue, warm romantic fun and a fair bit of super-sass girl power too.

Publication details: Hot Key Books, 2016, London, paperback
This copy: review copy from the publisher

London Belongs To Us has been nominated for the Carnegie Medal 2017

Thursday 3 November 2016

More of Me - Kathryn Evans

More of Me - Kathryn Evans

More of Me - Kathryn Evans
This was the first debut I’ve discovered on this year’s Carnegie nominations list and I was very impressed. Seems a silly thing to say – being impressed by a debut – but, there, I was: More of Me is a lovely solid novel that weaves a gripping and fascinating concept into time loved high school frolics and dramas.

The story concept is intriguing and it maintained my interest the whole way through. Teva is sixteen. She’s just stolen her previous self’s life both literally and not so literally. Horrifyingly and painfully, every year, a new Teva tears her way physically out of the previous Teva. So Teva lives with her mother and no siblings  - but lots of younger Teva’s. But nobody else knows. So, obviously, things are going to be socially tricky and emotionally, mentally, physically torturous for the Teva who is soon to be 17!

More of Me delivers a quietly funny sixth form school story full of boyfriend troubles, friendship circles and worries about personal statements and career choices as well as a sci-fi element exploring the essence of Teva’s being (and maybe even stretching to touch upon self-harming). By weaving the two strands together, the novel also convincingly manages to look at the different stages of childhood and captures the changing emotional and intellectual moods and swings of the teenage years very lovingly.  Talk about an identity crisis!

For all the horror that the concept involves, the novel is actually a light pageturner and probably easily suitable for readers of all ages. I really enjoyed this one. And, there is no cliffhanger!

There are some great book group questions that Kathryn Evans has posted on her website (there are spoilers though so read the book first!).

More of Me won the Edinburgh International Book Festival First Award 2016 and has been nominated for the 2017 Carnegie Medal.

Publication details: Usborne, 2016, London, paperback
This copy: review copy from the publisher