The Lie Tree by Francis Hardinge

The hardest thing about writing a book is sitting down in the chair and getting on with it. You'll find anything else to do, like writing blog posts about other people's books.

Now, we all know about The Lie Tree, it won the Costa prize and became an instant bestseller. Everybody loves it, and I daren't admit last year that I hadn't read it, especially when I met the lovely Francis Hardinge.

It's been sitting in my bedside bookcase now for nearly a year. So what better time to read it than when I should be writing my own book?

Before I begin, with the beginning, I have to declare my love for this book. It's wonderful, and I heartily approve of the ending, but I am jumping ahead of myself.

Last year, I had a crazy year, and I picked this book up several times. I was tired, with no time, and could only read a page or two before falling asleep or having to do something else, and I just couldn't get into the book. I read other, easier, volumes in that time, but I struggled with the opening of The Lie Tree, and that is because it is like a Dickens novel. This is no pulp fiction. You must have time to read this book, and pay it your full attention. It will more than repay your investment. It sows its seeds and builds carefully and gradually and suddenly you are immersed in a world you cannot be dragged away from. I started this book, again, two days ago. It was chapter nine when I realised I was trapped in the world of The Lie Tree. Today I ran a bath and sat in it for four hours until I'd read the last page. If you see me walking around looking like a giant prune, blame Francis Hardinge. The only book that I have experienced this with in recent times is Wolf Hall by Hillary Mantel which is one of my favourite books ever. A writer with the confidence to take their time artfully constructing a story is a writer worth reading.

One of the things I loved most about the book was Faith, the central character. I have been told by many other readers that she is unlikable to begin with, but I identified with her immediately. Her struggle is that of an intellectual young woman in a draconian Victorian patriarchal society. There, I've said it. I loved this book because it is the most beautifully written, epic, compelling, nail-biting, feminist story I've read, and I loved Faith. I am Faith. I tell lies.

Oh and that ending.... I didn't predict it or guess it. I bloody well enjoyed it.

Everybody should read this book. Bravo Costa judges. You chose well. I will be thinking about this story for a long long time.

You can buy a copy of the book from the link on the left, or you could treat yourself and buy an illustrated version with exquisite drawings by Chris Riddell. I have both. Needless to say I took the standard copy into the bath.

One by Sarah Crossan

One by Sarah Crossan should come with a DO NOT DISTURB sign.

One by Sarah Crossan should come with a DO NOT DISTURB sign.

The first book of 2017 that I have read is One by Sarah Crossan. I have been meaning to read it since it won the Carnegie Medal, but I have a confession to make. A story about conjoined twins written in verse didn't sound that appealing to me. It sounded like it might be a worthy but tough read, and at heart I'm a lazy escapist.

But of course, I was wrong, and an idiot.

This book deserves all the medals and prizes it has won. It is wonderfully easy to read. I read it in a day and I am a slow reader. After page one you become less and less aware of the form, but it has the emotional impact of a sledgehammer. It is an epic love poem of self discovery and I was hooked within pages.

This is the first of Sarah Crossan's book that I have read, but I will be reading them all. Fierce writer, economic with words, generous with emotion, fearless about staring life in the face. Can't really get better than that, can you?

You should definitely read it.

Wonder by R. J. Palacio

There are books and then there are BOOKS. I've been reading Wonder by R J Palacio with my eleven year old son. We each take it in turns to read a chapter out loud. We both loved this book, and there were chapters were I couldn't read on for crying, which he thought was odd. I think this book is perfect, and a MUST read for every human being, but particularly brilliant for boys starting secondary school. It's well written, imaginatively constructed, with great characters and an important message, without resorting to sentimentalism. I honestly can't recommend it enough. It's by far the best book I've read this year and probably last decade. There's a link below so that you can buy this book, and you should.

Who Let The Gods Out by Maz Evans

Let's face it, 2016 has been a relentless year of bad news and upsetting deaths. Right now, we all need something to lift our spirits and make us smile. When the future looks bleak, I like to escape into a good book, and if that's your kind of thing too then you need to read Maz Evan's relentlessly witty, fast paced middle grade adventure Who Let The Gods Out. It has a cast of adorably funny Greek Gods and an earnest boy called Elliot who will do anything to protect his fragile mother.

This book is a page-turner littered with belly laughs that any adult will zip through, enjoying Maz Evan's take on the world of the gods (although my favourite scene was the one with the Queen), and every child will chuckle and snigger at Evan's irreverent humour, whilst cheering Elliot on. It's a great one to read with the kids, and if you don't like to read out loud, I heard that Maz Evans has recorded the audiobook, so download and hit play.

Who Let The Gods Out, a fantastically titled debut, is published in February 2017 by Chicken House. Find out more by watching the video below and pre-order the book here: 

The Secret of Nightingale Wood by Lucy Strange

An ARC of The Secret of Nightingale Wood. The actual book is way prettier.

An ARC of The Secret of Nightingale Wood. The actual book is way prettier.

The Secret of Nightingale Wood by Lucy Strange is a beautifully told story about loss, grief and the restorative power of the imagination, utterly perfect for this weekend, and Remembrance Sunday.

Set in 1919, Henrietta moves to Hope House with her family, who are struggling to cope with a bereavement. More and more, Henry finds herself alone with her imagination and drawn to a dark wood inhabited by a witch called Moth.

This book will please fans of Wilkie Collins and Joan Aiken. It's littered with literary references to fairy tales and evokes a magic all of it's own. Once you start the story you won't be able to put the book down. I do have to warn you that your eyes might get a bit wet and dewy towards the end, but I can heartily recommend this wonderful book.

Find out more about The Secret of Nightingale Wood by watching the interview with the author Lucy Strange below, and if it looks like the kind of book you'll love then you can BUY IT HERE!

The Apprentice Witch by James Nicol

You know that feeling when you slide your feet into fluffy slippers, curl up with a blanket over your knees, and your cat on your lap, drinking a mug of hot milk? I love that feeling, and that's the feeling that reading this book gave me. It's like meeting an old friend and a new one at the same time.

The world of The Apprentice Witch is familiar and pleasing. It reminds me of Diana Wynne Jones's stories (which I adore), but James Nicol conjures something unique and magical, all of his own. I defy anyone not to love Arianwyn and want to visit the Spellorium. There are thrills and adventures aplenty, but it's the trials that Arianwyn faces and the way she attempts to overcome them that keeps you turning the pages.

If you want a break from books that make you cry and tear your sanity to pieces, I would press this into your hands, and you will thank me. It's charming and delightful.

Find out more about The Apprentice Witch by watching the interview with the author James Nicol below, and if it looks like the kind of book you'll love then you can BUY IT HERE!

Mrs Peregrine's Home For Perculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

I'd heard that Tim Burton snapped up the film rights for Ransom Riggs's 'Perculiar' trilogy, and from a brief scan of the synopsis I guessed that this book was going to be right up my street.

The idea for this trilogy is brilliantly original. It is a story about strangely talented orphans, inspired by real vintage photographs from flea markets that Riggs has collected over the years. Truly original ideas are harder to come by than you'd think, so hats off to Ransom Riggs for Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. It's unique and a great read.

The general aesthetic, locations, descriptive prose, all totally my cup of tea.  It's dark and thrilling, a true flight of the imagination with wonderful characters that you want to spend more time with. The book is a beautiful package, with old photographs scattered liberally throughout.

This is Ransom Rigg's first book, and I was impressed by his writing. There's a lot to love, although as the plot developed I did wonder if the concept rather outshone the narrative in places, but I definitely will be reading parts two and three, and watching the movies.

You can buy Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children here, and since I wrote the review Tim Burton's movie has been released, although I recommend reading the book first.

Ransom Riggs is a film maker as well as an author, and he made this brilliant short film about going urban exploring in Europe, looking for Miss Peregrine's house. Worth a watch.

A Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

I have a confession to make. I was dreading reading this book because I have a crush on the author. She's lovely, and published by the same company as me.

However, I needn't have worried. The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave doesn't disappoint.

It's a lyrical adventure, steeped in myth, of heroic girls and the power of friendship. A must-read for every young girl of substance with plenty in there for an old snaggle-toothed feminist like me. I even have a favourite bit, chapter 18, pages 161-2 are a great example of word beauty. And no, before you ask, I wasn't wiping away tears over breakfast. It was an eyelash. Honest.

This book is a looker, the picture above is just the arc! This is one to put on your special shelf. The girls who love ink and stars will adore this book.

This book has become one of the bestsellers of 2016 and it is well deserving of its success. If you love a good map then you should BUY THE BOOK here. If you are undecided watch the wonderful author tell you about her book in the video below and you'll want to read it.

Skellig by David Arnold

Skellig by David Arnold

Skellig by David Arnold

This book stays with you. It's beautifully written. The prose is direct and yet poetic.

It's about big and small things all at once, life, death, heaven, hell, education, relationships, family, thinking, magic, spirituality, but better than the achievement of squeezing thoughts about these epic things into a slim book, is the story, which is utterly compelling.

I can see why it's so well loved. I would highly recommend.