A Place Called Perfect by Helena Duggan


A Place Called Perfect by Helena Duggan has been one of the more visible debuts this year, what with its being Waterstones book of the month in August and then picked for the Tom Fletcher Bookclub. This, combined with the fact that the wonderful cover art is by Karl James Mountford (who does the internal illustrations for my books, and whom I adore), has caused the book to jump to the top of by TBR pile. Oh and they sent me cool glasses. Presents always help.

I read the book in one sitting because the premise is curious and terrifying. As soon as you open the book you enter a town called Perfect, which has a strange problem, everyone there is blind and has to wear special glasses. Violet's father is an eye specialist and as soon as the family move to Perfect, their vision goes. Violet notices a series of strange things, and before you know it, you're halfway through the book, you heart is in your mouth and you're knee deep in adventure. I don't want to give anything away, so I will not share more. This is a well written book. It's a great read and operates on two levels, there's the surface adventure, which is thrilling, and then the discussion about the questionable nature of a society which vilifies imagination and requires conformity. Helena Duggan has produced a great debut and I suspect we've a lot more to read from her in the future.

You can listen to Tom Fletcher reading an extract from A Place Called Perfect below.

The Explorer by Katherine Rundell


Most people who love books know that Katherine Rundell is an accomplished writer. Her prose is swift to read and littered with seeds which germinate in your imagination. Having just finished writing Battle of the Beetles, which is set in the Amazon rainforest, I was excited and slightly scared of reading her new book The Explorer. I was unable to afford the time or the money to go to the Amazon in person, so all of the research I did for my final beetle book was in libraries, online or in my study. I had read that Katherine actually went to the Amazon in preparation for writing this book, and I was so excited to see how she'd interpreted that experience in words.

The Explorer doesn't disappoint. The story begins with a plane crash and four children being stranded in the Amazon. The lush greenery of the rainforest is evoked deftly and creates a lasting landscape in your head. Katherine loves to describe food in her books, and the food the Amazon provides is unusual and sometimes unpalatable, and these were my favourite bits. The hunger and the unusual meals are beautifully described. It's impossible not to love the baby sloth in the story, but I also really enjoyed the character of the explorer, he was complex, intriguing and a bit frightening in the best of ways.

My favourite Rundell book is still The Wolf Wilder, but The Explorer is a great addition to her rich and varied list of children's stories. If you haven't read her books yet, then you need to.

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell *****

How I wish I had read this book when I was a child. I am going to read this book to my children, and give it to every human being I ever meet who hasn't read it. It is wonderful.

Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals was first published in 1956 and is set between 1935 and 1939 when Gerald Durrell’s family move to Corfu.

It’s a work of genius and should be in every child’s bookcase. It’s written by a naturalist, and opens your eyes, providing you with a vocabulary to describe and think about the creatures you encounter in the natural world – no matter how old you are.

The book is divided into three parts – the three different villas in which Gerald and his eccentric family live at various times in Corfu. Durrell manages to capture a child’s point of view of the adult world perfectly.  His observations of his family are similar to his observations of the creatures he collects. It’s not complex language, but it is beautifully expressed. The descriptive prose is shockingly good. The narrative is not held together so much by plot as by humour, which I think is an important ingredient in a children’s book. This book is very funny, with proper laugh out loud moments. There are delightful childish details, like he has these two little dogs called Widdle and Puke, and then there’s the moment with the scorpions…so good. And it’s one of the few books I’ve found that has large sections about beetles in it!

People talk about narrative voice, I think this book has narrative eyes – or a narrative view. We see the natural world as Gerald Durrell did, as a boy and, of course, he grew up to be a famous naturalist. As an adult writer, he could so easily have browbeaten the reader with all his knowledge, but it’s handled with a light touch.

He describes Ulysses, his pet owl, waking up: “He would yawn delicately, shiver violently, so that all his feathers stood out like the petals of a wind-blown chrysanthemum.” I delight in this kind of descriptive prose.

There are some dubious moments, when the young Gerald does things that are now illegal – he steals eggs. That particular kind of exploration can’t happen anymore because of the damage it would do, but the subject does raise interesting questions. When the young Gerald goes out on his expeditions to collect and watch creatures – or to explore — he has a freedom and autonomy that children don’t have today.

If you haven't read this book, you must.

Mold and the Poison Plot by Lorraine Gregory

I read this book back in June when it first came out, but have been too busy meeting my own deadlines to have the time to write a review. However, I believe that it always better to be late with this things than never do them, so apologies for the tardy nature of this review.

Mold and the Poison Plot is the kooky debut middle grade book by Lorraine Gregory. It tells the tale of a boy called Mold who has a very large nose and an extraordinary ability to smell things in detail.

This book is a romp of an adventure that had me crossing all my fingers and toes at some points. The prose is rich with smells and flavour, and Mold is an unusual protagonist, easy to like and champion. At the heart of the adventure is his touching relationship with his adopted mother, who he has to save from wrongful accusation. The story is brutal and stinky in places, but all the best adventures are.

I hope we get to read more books about Mold and find out who his real parents are.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline *****

Oh this book, THIS BOOK!

This book is so good that I have decided to add a new feature to this blog. If I read a book that makes me immediately - upon finishing - thrust it into the arms of someone and tell them they HAVE to read it, then go online and try and find other people who've already read it and want to form a club with them, then I'm going to put ***** beside the title of the book in the blog post title.

Okay, there's not much I can say about this book, except that it is INSPIRED. It is a quest, set both in the future and the virtual reality of popular culture of the 1980s. It is a book with all the perfect ingredients to please all the people and a plot that does not let you down.

I LOVED IT! You should read it, whoever you are, whatever age you are.

The film comes out next year, and you will love it more if you read the book first.

A truly enjoyable, great, book. You should buy it right away. You'll thank me.



Witch for a Week by Kaye Umansky

I was sent an advance copy of Witch for a Week by Ashley the illustrator, and I must say I read this charming little book in an afternoon. It's delightfully bewitching and the perfect read for any young person hankering after a bit of adventure and a tea cup full of magic. The likeable Elsie discovers she has a certain knack that casts her into a pickle. I can't wait to see the finished book with all of Ashley's illustrations. It's going to look fab.

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.