#YAReview: Ready or Not by Tracy Darnton

Cover image by Ardalan Hamedani on Unsplash, published by Little Tiger Group, May 2022

I requested this book from Little Tiger Press when I saw the publicity material which compared it to one of my favourite ever YA novels, We Were Liars by E Lockhart, and it is certainly likely to appeal to fans of that title. The plot revolves around a group of privileged teenagers, and their final carefree summer holiday at the idyllic and luxurious summer home owned by one of their sets of parents. The story is narrated by the youngest of the group, fifteen-year-old Millie, who is trying to piece together the clues around a mysterious disappearance the previous summer. The story shifts backwards and forwards between 2018 and 2019, which combined with the unreliable narration, leaves the reader grasping for clues in the different characters’ perspectives of the fateful game of hide-and-seek which sparks the mystery.

Author, Tracy Darnton, shows her mastery of this genre, gradually releasing insights into the seething tensions festering below the carefree holiday facade. For beneath the surface of three university friends, who have been holidaying with their children year after year and assuming that the children will be great friends, we are given a glimpse into the simmering distrust sown by a narcissist amongst the children. When the gathering for the final summer holiday is further thrown into imbalance by a marital break-up and the appearance of new partners, the civilised surface shatters; beautiful but flawed Kat disappears; and three families are left broken.

Millie, who idolised Kat, is determined to get answers about what happened after the final game of hide and seek. She insists that the remaining teenagers: Charlie (Kat’s twin), and brother and sister Matt and Jem, should meet one last time at the Cornwall house before it is sold. Her memories, combined with the letters that her therapist has suggested she should write, gradually reveal fragments of the truth. With an excellent final twist, this is a book which will appeal to fans of the contemporary mystery genre. Suitable for readers of 14/15+.

I am grateful to Little Tiger for sending me a copy of Ready or Not in return for my honest review.

#YA Review: Her Dark Wings by Melinda Salisbury

Publisher: David Fickling Books, July 2022

I will start this review by quoting from the blurb on my proof copy of this YA novel, due to be published in July 2022:

Her Dark Wings is a potent, passionate modern-day take on the Persephone myth, beautifully told by an exceptional writer.

back cover blurb

If I was in my late teens, free of exams and responsibilities, I would have devoured this novel in one sitting. As a full-time librarian with family responsibilities, I had to pace my reading which had the advantage of allowing me to savour every perfectly constructed sentence and passage of this gripping story. Steeped in Ancient Greek lore, the narrative has a mythical feel; set on an unnamed, agricultural island where Ancient Greek rituals are observed by a contemporary population, the effect from the earliest pages plunges the reader into an unsettling space where the veil between real-life and the mythological realm appears to have been lowered. Author, Melinda Salisbury, has clearly steeped herself in research and writes so lyrically, that she transports her reader into this modern day fable with the same ease that an Olympian might summon a mortal from the earthly realm.

Our narrator, Corey Allaway, is a broken seventeen year old, submerged in the misery of first teenage heartbreak from which she does not seem able to resurrect her former self. She is totally overwhelmed by the joint betrayals of her first boyfriend, Alistair and her childhood best friend, Bree. Consumed by jealousy, rage and obsession she narrates in a voice of heightened emotion which compels the empathy of the reader as she explores her inner turmoil and reconstructs the events leading to a night on which everything will change. The appearance of a beautiful boy with golden lips at the Island’s Thesmophoria festival sparks a chain of events which encompass gods, furies, and mortals. The permeable border between the human and mythical world is used as a backdrop to interrogate the fine divide between love and hate, obsession and attraction and friendship and betrayal.

Corey’s affinity with the earth, her uncompromising sense of justice and gift for propagating new life produces enlightening results in a narrative that takes your breath away with both its plotting and prose. It becomes clear quite early in the story that the shattering of a life-long friendship is the ultimate betrayal in Corey’s mind and her feelings are examined with poetic beauty. I honestly could quote from virtually every page, but here are two examples taken from Corey’s imprisonment in the Underworld. Firstly as she returns to the care of one of the Furies after an encounter with Hades:

She folds her wings back once more. Even in the few moments she’s been away my mind has sanded down the edges of her, letting me forget how different she is compared to me, with her black quartz eyes, her talons and her feathers. 

p130

And just a few pages later, whilst still in the cave of Erebus, with Alecto the Fury, this meditation on friendship:

Friendship is built on stories – secret for secret, confession for confession, and each one weaves invisible threads between you, binding you to each other. The more threads, the stronger the friendship.

p135

This book is targeted at the YA market and I can see it being very popular amongst the older teenage audience. Those 16 – 18 year olds who were amongst the earliest readers of Maz Evans’ Who Let the Gods Out MG series, are likely to be intrigued by the reacquaintance with familiar names. I will certainly be adding it to my own teen’s TBR stack ready for the end of the public exam season. For those regular readers of my blog, who often come here for primary school recommendations; this is very definitely an older teenage book, with language and adult references not appropriate for the younger audience. As an adult, many years older than the target market, I thoroughly enjoyed Her Dark Wings and would categorise it in the same bracket as Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles or Circe and Donna Tartt’s The Secret History in terms of thoroughly immersive writing infused with classical content.

I am most grateful to David Fickling books and Liz Scott PR for sending me a proof copy of this book in return for my honest review.

Review: Aftershocks by Anne Fine

I have read, or listened to my children reading, many of Anne Fine’s books over the past 20 years, so I was fully aware of her prowess as a creator of absorbing and thoughtful stories. I am certain that Aftershocks, due for publication on 10th February 2022, will only add to her reputation as one of the finest contemporary writers of fiction for young people. This story deals primarily with grief, and Anne Fine has crafted a story which is gripping, atmospheric, deeply moving and full of wisdom which, at the moment they need it, could be a comforting and enlightening read for anyone of 10 years and above. It is often through fiction that individuals recognise their own or others’ deepest emotions and the publication of Aftershocks could not be better timed, given the dreadful individual and collective loss of lives experienced in the past two years.

The story is set in the fictional Federation, a land quite recognisable in its similarities to our own, with familiar technology and societal structure and is told as a first person narrative by Louie, a boy in his early teens dealing with the loss of his older brother, Toby, and parental separation. When a mix-up in his parents’ diaries results in him accompanying his engineer father to inspect a water pumping station in the remote Endlands, his family’s microcosm of grief becomes absorbed into a far larger trauma. The pumping station lies inland of a high ridge which separates it from the coastal community of the Endlands, populated by a minority group who have been broken and conquered by The Federation years earlier. In the middle of their first night at the industrial building, Louie and the engineering team are lucky to escape with their lives as an earth-splitting earthquake completely destroys the complex. Far worse is to befall the Endlanders, as a tidal wave wreaks destruction on their community. This scenario is brilliantly envisioned from Louie’s mind’s eye as he and the engineers hear the roar of destruction taking place on the far side of the ridge, which protects them from the in-rushing currents.

Events are portrayed with such immediacy and lucidity by Louie’s narrative that the story is utterly gripping and pulls the reader through all of the emotions felt by the protagonist and the characters surrounding him. The aftermath of a community’s collective loss and grief opens up an analysis of his own and his parents’ different ways of dealing with Toby’s sudden death under the wheels of a tearaway teenage driver. Such is the quality of the narrative that we are able to see the protagonists experiencing different stages or manifestations of grief without ever losing the pace and flow of the absorbing story. Thus we feel the mother’s visceral anger, Louie’s aching loneliness and the father’s denial and immersion into work to distract him from his thoughts. So loss and its aftermath have caused a breakup in the family and this is then brilliantly interwoven into the macroscopic bereavement of an entire community.

In creating the Endlanders as an imagined group with a unique set of beliefs, the author is able to examine collective rituals and different understandings of ghosts and lost souls. Louie’s Dad has remained on the coast with engineers and volunteers to help rebuild the infrastructure and Louie rejoins him during his school holiday. There have been reports on the internet of ghostly apparitions and the strange behaviour of the bereft survivors of the tsunami and it doesn’t take long before Louie encounters his first ghost, a young boy drenched in muddy water, leaving a trail of wet footprints before vanishing. The sense of a haunted landscape, crowded with lost souls is vividly rendered and there are scenes set at the pumping station ruins which sent shivers down my spine. As Louie begins to learn of the tradition of Malouy, the necessity of the bereaved to repeatedly tell the story of their lost loved ones to appease their unsettled spirits he finds the courage to talk to his father about the loss of Toby. There are some incredibly moving passages as the logical, scientific, engineer who has always had the ability to fix things, begins to understand that the more spiritual beliefs of others which he had previously dismissed as irrational, are in fact worthy of respect. Further, as Louie completes his understanding of the haunted community he is driven to an ultimate act of courage.

I am astounded by the power of this book. The imagery of loss as an earthquake, shattering all that had been complete and alive; the aftershocks of grief in all its forms; and the tsunami as a flood of emotions and tears which can be as devastating as the initial shock are all perfectly realised. Anne Fine’s writing style is very straightforward but packs a huge emotional punch, so perfectly does she express the inner lives of her characters and highlight the extreme difficulty experienced by some people of talking about bereavement. There is much wisdom packed into this dramatic work of fiction which could open up discussion, and I highly recommend it to all secondary school librarians and Year 6 classroom libraries as well as to anyone working their way through the loss of a loved one. I am certain that this will be a book that I recommend repeatedly in the years to come.

I am most grateful to the publishers Old Barn Books and to publicist Liz Scott for sending me a review copy of Aftershocks in exchange for an honest review.

Short Stories for Long Winter Evenings: A Glove Shop in Vienna and Christmas is Murder

A Glove Shop in Vienna published by Macmillan Children’s Books & Christmas is Murder published by Sphere, an imprint of Little Brown

Sometimes there are just too many things going on in real life for me to settle properly into a long novel. The run up to Christmas 2021 was certainly one of those times, thus I was delighted to find a collection of short stories by Eva Ibbotson in my local Public Library and to purchase a collection of short mysteries to read for my Book Club’s December choice.

A Glove Shop in Vienna contains nineteen short stories, many of which are set in Eva Ibbotson’s native Austria. Her delicately emotive writing conjures up snow and frost covered landscapes, lavish villas in the fashionable neighbourhoods of Vienna, illicit love affairs, grand passions and the intricacies of Viennese society in the pre-WWII years. I found it to be the perfect transportive read, whisking me off to an entirely different time and place. I think that the first story, Vicky and the Christmas Angel was my favourite with its insight into the tensions running below the coming together of disparate branches of the family at Christmas. Vicky comes of age following her dramatic and unwelcome realisation of the enormous contribution that “poor relation” cousin Poldi makes to the family’s annual festivities. I also loved the story of a great life-long love which finally flourishes in the headily exotic setting of the city of Manaus, deep in the Amazon rainforest. This has prompted me to seek out our much-read family copy of Journey To The River Sea, which I have wanted to re-read since hearing that Emma Carroll has written a book inspired by this classic.

Christmas is Murder by Val McDermid is another fantastic collection of short stories by a writer of immense dexterity. Her ability to create believable characters and imbue them with a back-story sufficient to make them the victim or perpetrator of a crime; scatter some red herrings; build tension and draw the story to a satisfactory conclusion within the confines of twenty to thirty pages is incredible in and of itself. However, Val McDermid adds another layer to the majesty of this collection, her uniquely beautiful prose. My favourite of the stories, Ghost Writer, had a supernatural rather than crime theme and ironically centered on a struggling writer:

Gavin had no talent for narrative. Story eluded him. Sometimes he sensed it almost within his grasp but whenever he tried to corner it, it slipped away, slithering under his out-stretched arms or between his legs like a nutmegging football.

p172

If we are going to use footballing comparisons, then Val McDermid must surely be the Dennis Bergkamp of crime writing, entertaining her audience with supreme skill and making her craft look effortless. It was such a treat each evening to enjoy these short stories once the day’s chores were done – in all honesty, it was the most pleasurable Book Club choice that I read in 2021.

Books for Christmas Gifts 2021

It’s that time of year when I start shopping for the books that increasingly form the backbone of my Christmas shopping list. There has been another fantastic roster of new books emerging this year and we are actually spoilt for choice when entering a bookshop, so I thought I would share some of the books that have stood out for me during the past 12 months and which I will be buying and giving this festive season.

Christmas/Festive Themed

Christmas/Festive themed books 2021

Once Upon A Silent Night by Dawn Casey and Katie Hickey is a beautiful retelling of the Nativity story inspired by a medieval carol, which would make a delightful gift for any pre-school child.

The Christmas Carrolls by Mel Taylor-Bessent and Selom Sunu is a huge-hearted festive story which absolutely brims over with Christmas cheer, warmth and humour.

The Lights that Dance in the Night by Yuval Zommer is an enchanting picture book which sparkles with the magic of the Northern Lights; in the author’s own words “a miracle of winter”.

Non-fiction

Non-fiction published in 2021 by David Fickling Books and Bloomsbury

Roar Like a Lion by Carlie Sorosiak: a wellbeing book with a different twist, looking at what we can learn from the animal kingdom to help us navigate some of life’s uncertainties. If you know a tween or teen who has struggled with some of the challenges of the past two years, put a copy of this compassionate and life-affirming book into their hands.

How Was That Built? by Roma Agrawal and Katie Hickey is quite simply a towering work of non-fiction which will make a fantastic present for curious minds of any age.

Translated Fiction

Interestingly, both of my choices in this category come from Scandinavian writers and feature unconventional stories brimming with wit and wisdom. Firstly we have the classic children’s story Pippi Lockstocking by Astrid Lindgren which has just been re-released in a glorious hardback format with new illustrations in her trademark collage-style, by Lauren Child. A beautifully designed gift for any child to treasure. Recommended for age 7+.

Newly translated into English this year, Me and the Robbersons by Finnish author Siri Kolu (translated by Ruth Urbom) was one of my most joyous middle-grade reads of the summer. An anarchic tale of sweet-toothed, highway bandits on the roads of Sweden, the humour envelopes a beautiful story of acceptance. Recommended for age 9+.

MG Fiction

The Exploding Life of Scarlett Fife by Maz Evans and Chris Jevons is a riot of jokes, warmth and love, fully illustrated and perfect for readers who are gaining independence and don’t mind stopping every few minutes to wipe away the tears of laughter.

Mickey and the Trouble with Moles by Anne Miller and Becka Moor is their second hugely entertaining, illustrated, spy mystery in this series, which will test the brainpower of junior cryptographers. An excellent introduction to the world of espionage fiction.

The Crackledawn Dragon by Abbie Elphinstone is the conclusion to her Unmapped Kingdoms trilogy. It is a story brimming with kindness, playfulness and sheer, unbound imaginative brilliance which will delight readers of 9+

The Swallows’ Flight by Hilary McKay is a deeply moving story set during WWII and told from the perspective of both English and German characters. The elegant imagery of swallows flits through this story of the importance of seemingly small acts of kindness. A thoughtful read for anyone of 11+.

Island Adventures

Three books, all set on islands situated off the Irish coast were amongst my favourite MG titles this year, so I’ve given them a category of their own!

Noah’s Gold by Frank Cottrell-Boyce is a treasure chest of heart, humour and hope; a wonderful story which will entertain all the family. Perfect for reading aloud when the generations are gathered together over the festive period.

The Stormkeepers’ Battle by Catherine Doyle concludes the thrilling and lyrical trilogy of the battle for the soul of wild Arranmore Island.

The Way to Impossible Island by Sophie Kirtley is a life-affirming, time-slip novel about overcoming fears and challenging expectations.

Young Adult Fiction

Ghost Bird by Lisa Fuller is unlike anything I have ever read in all my (many) years as a reader. I actually haven’t written my full review yet as I am still trying to process the insight that author Lisa Fuller has generously provided into her cultural beliefs. I did find some aspects quite frightening, so would certainly say that this is a book for over 16s and not those of a nervous disposition but I’m sure it will also be of great interest to adults who wish to gain some understanding of the culture and spiritual beliefs of First Nations Australians.

I am Winter by Denise Brown is a beautifully written, gritty, and compelling whodunnit perfect for readers of 15+ .

Non-fiction November Review: Split Survival Kit by Ruth Fitzgerald & Angharad Rudkin

Cover image by Stef Murphy, to be published by Wren & Rook / Hachette Children’s Group
17th February 2022

This engaging, down to earth guide has been designed with great care to provide a practical road map to assist children and teenagers through the emotional journey encountered when parents decide to separate. One of the authors, Dr Angharad Rudkin is a Clinical Psychologist, specialising in children and family issues while Ruth Fitzgerald has written a hugely popular fiction series for the tween readership. The combination of clinical knowledge and skill at writing for the 10/11+ audience, combined with Stef Murphy’s artwork make this a book that youngsters will want to pick up and learn from, if they sadly find themselves facing this circumstance.

Starting from the premise that parental separation is a journey on which most people would not wish to embark, the book proposes to set out ten steps to help children navigate the emotional path, discussing all the steps along the way and giving young people the vocabulary they need to articulate their feelings. The ten chapters are broken into sections which include real life stories of young people who have already experienced these issues; advice on ways to think differently and empathetically about a situation; practical exercises to help manage emotions and journal writing or drawing hints to help youngsters track their feelings through the process.

The design and layout of the chapters has been done with great skill to ensure that the advice is accessible to all. The images convey information clearly and sympathetically; text is broken into chunks, often contained in panels which resemble pages ripped from a notebook or in bullet journal-style layout, with arrows and bullet points highlighting summaries or key points. Readers are guided through the process from the initial thought that perhaps they can encourage their parents to change track and stay together, to acceptance, to dealing with their own feelings, managing anxieties and finding the answers to questions that cause anxiety, learning how to talk about their family situation to others without embarrassment, how to cope when parents behave badly, how to deal with life split between two houses and the introduction of new family members and how to manage the impact on their own future emotional life.

Throughout the book there is a tone of positivity and calmness, readers are encouraged to look for the positives in their situation, advice is given on how to take control of those aspects which they can manage, and to accept that some things cannot be changed. It is made clear from the start that children are in no way to blame for parental separation and that their feelings are important and need to be discussed with the adults in their life. At the end of the book there are contact details for organisations which can supply further advice and help if needed, there is also a very helpful glossary of terms which children might hear during the family court process. While no book can take the place of personal discussion with responsible adults or even clinicians, this title is likely to be a very valuable addition to the wellbeing collections in school, public and even healthcare libraries, with its expert writing for children of 10+, presenting reassurance and practical guidance at a time of family break-up.

I am grateful to NetGalley and to Wren & Rook/Hachette Children’s Group for allowing me access to a pre-publication. electronic version of Split Survival Kit in exchange for my honest opinion.

Non-fiction November Review: Roar Like a Lion by Carlie Sorosiak, illustrated by Katie Walker

Cover design by Sarah Darby, published by David Fickling Books

After nearly two years living with the COVID-19 pandemic, research shows that many children and young people are suffering with poor mental wellbeing, so this newly published title from David Fickling Books will, I’m sure, be welcomed by many school librarians and school counsellors. It is an absolute joy in all respects, from the glossy, colourful cover, distinctive artwork and playful use of different font styles and its inspirational approach to the topic of mental wellbeing.

Author Carlie Sorosiak has looked to the animal kingdom with which we share such a large percentage of our DNA, to identify lessons that we can take from the mammals, birds and even reptiles that surround us. The tone of this book is one of kindness and compassion, which is brilliantly highlighted by the muted pastel colour scheme and Katie Walker’s distinctive and uplifting illustrations. The inspired decision to focus on stories of animals makes this book hugely appealing to tweens and teens, who can hopefully take encouragement from the cameos outlined here and apply the lessons to their own daily situations. The text is accessible, the advice written in down-to-earth fashion and nicely broken-up with different font effects, colour panels and the aforementioned illustrations.

My own favourite chapter is entitled DIG A LARGE BURROW Be Your Kindest Self which starts with this quote from author Henry James:

Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.

page 74, quote from Henry James

the chapter continues with tales of animals which have demonstrated remarkable acts that we would construe as kindness; wombats allowing other animals into their burrows to shelter from the devastating bushfires that swept Australia in 2019; dolphins who have rescued surfers from shark attacks and a giant tortoise who “adopted” a baby hippo in a Kenyan wildlife park!

Whether you want advice on making friendships, reaching out to other groups in an inclusive manner, finding your inner bravery or accepting your own unique self, there is a story for you in this book. In fact, if like me, you just want to read a warm-hearted book, packed with interesting anecdotes from the animal kingdom then I encourage you to find a copy of this delightful book. It is aimed at a readership of 10+ but I honestly think it could be enjoyed by anyone and should feature in all classroom, library or home wellbeing collections.

I am most grateful to Liz Scott and David Fickling Books for supplying me with a free copy of Roar Like a Lion in exchange for my honest opinion.

Blog Tour: I Am Winter by Denise Brown

Cover design by Anne Glenn, published by Hashtag Press 11th November 2021

This newly published YA mystery is a gritty, contemporary, whodunnit quite unlike anything else I’ve read this year. Denise Brown’s writing is exquisite and utterly compelling, placing the reader completely inside the head of her fifteen-year-old first-person narrator, Summer. She has structured the story with such skill that I honestly could not tell where it was heading; hints are dropped from the erratic machinations of Summer’s mind, which has been damagingly fragmented by her under-age drinking, drug taking and as we gradually discover, years of irresponsible parenting.

Summer lives a life of school truancy, duvet-wrapped daytime TV, and nights spent hanging out at the local playpark with a group of older teenagers – drinking alcohol that they have taken from their parents or purchased with fake-IDs and taking pills. Her best-friend Courtney (Cee) is always the life and soul of the party and Summer clearly revels in her friendship and basks in its reflected glory. She also has a massive crush on Cee’s older brother Ritchie, who acts like a protective figure to the girls but appears to only view Summer as his sister’s friend while he dates a string of older girls. Whilst Summer has no responsibilities in her home life, Cee is relied upon by her mother (known around the estate as “The Ovary”) to care for her troupe of half siblings, all of whom have different fathers. This is the scene that is set out in the opening chapter, before Cee’s dramatic death. She has been travelling in the back of a car with Summer, both girls high on alcohol and pills and singing at the top of their lungs when the car crashes and Summer witnesses the vitality drain from her only real friend.

On her own release from hospital she is swamped with grief and guilt for persuading Cee to join her on the fateful journey, which is compounded by the gradual realisation that she is being unjustly blamed for supplying the pills which caused Cee’s heart to fail. This revelation is played out over social media, where the degree of love and loss for Cee is measured in likes and comments. Sadder than Summer’s grieving process is the image of lives validated or ruined by their perception on social channels. The cruel comments on her social posts develop into threatening notes through the letterbox, followed by foul deliveries and even an angry, abusive and foul-mouthed visitation from The Ovary warning her to stay away from the lantern ceremony organised in Cee’s memory. 

As the countdown to this ceremony ratchets up the tension, my heart was breaking at the lack of support that Summer is given by the adults around her. Apart from platitudes about how strong she is and how everyone knew that she loved Cee more than anyone else, Summer’s mother is far too obsessed with losing the baby-weight she gained with half-brother Jonah and enjoying nights out, to pay any attention to her daughter’s feelings. At one point, Summer describes her mother as follows:

She’s buried her eyes in hollows above her cheekbones, and her hair clings to last night’s cigarettes.

Chapter 26

Mum’s boyfriend; Jonah’s father, Mac, attempts to offer some advice about her unreliable friendships and her lack of school attendance, but it is clear that his main concern is his baby son who we learn has Down’s Syndrome. Mac provides the nurturing to his own offspring that “Mum” fails to provide to either of her children. As a reader, you comprehend the cause of Summer’s sofa-based stupor but desperately hope that she can find the impetus to break free from it and uncover the real identity of the drug-pusher.

This story is hard-hitting and tackles a number of social issues, including under-age sex, and the lack of self-respect and self-control exhibited by some youngsters when they have not benefited from a loving parental relationship. The difference in the level of care given to Jonah by Mac compared to Jonah and Summer’s mother is stark. This awakens Summer’s own caring side and you begin to hope that her love for her half-brother will be her salvation. She considers his experience of the world and concludes:

Whatever Jonah’s soul is made up of, it’s pink, and pure, and honest, and he follows me with his eyes wide open and trusting.

Chapter 33

Another wonderful relationship is the portrayal of platonic care between Summer and her friend from primary school, Kofi. He is a noble figure, undaunted by his step-father’s homophobic physical abuse, and proves to be a steadfast voice of reason and love when Summer needs an ally.

Throughout the story, Summer makes reference to her bear-wolf, a furry beast living in a hollow tree in the woods beyond her estate. I was never entirely sure whether this was indeed a real animal or a drug-induced delusion. By the end of the tale I could best rationalise it as her longing for a comforting, warm figure who would provide love and protection to her lonely soul. In my opinion, great books are those which leave an imprint after you have read them. This one left me wondering just how many teenagers face the daily reality of the lives portrayed here in fiction, facing the consequences of poor decisions because they have not had reliable guidance from those who should provide love, boundaries and aspirations. 

I highly recommend this book to a readership of 15+ and I am most grateful to Helen at LiterallyPR and  Hashtag Press for providing me with an electronic copy and inviting me to join the blog tour; do check out the other stops on the schedule.

Lego Life Hacks by Julia March and Rosie Peet, models by Barney Main and Nate Dias

Published by DK Books, models by Barney Main and Nate Dias

Two of my great loves come together in this book: Lego and the publisher DK Books! I have bought many Lego DK books for my own children over the years and also have a large Lego collection built up over their childhoods, so when I saw this title available on NetGalley I immediately requested it.

I can confirm that it is marvellous, containing detailed written and photographic instructions for innovative Lego builds suitable for amateur to expert builders alike. There are 50 projects in total, but obviously you can then adapt these as far as your imagination will allow. Some examples include: a fun speaker to amplify your phone, a Lego houseplant, photo-frame or pen holder to decorate your desk, or a catapult to fling paper into the recycling bin! As a quick test I attempted a couple of the easier builds and you can see my efforts below. When I have more time I definitely want to try building the catapult which I think would provide some fun the next time the family are all gathered together!

My first builds: phone stand, cable holder and earphone cable tidy

It is always lovely to see children innovating with their Lego builds but sometimes imaginations need a little stimulation. The beauty of having this book in your home, classroom or library is that it provides that nudge to encourage readers to use their bricks in different ways and develop their creativity. This would make an excellent gift for keen young builders, or even those of us who might want to experiment with our children’s collections! In fact, there are many situations in which I could see this book being used including teambuilding or wellbeing sessions for adults and collaborative skills sessions for children. I loved the “Meet the Builders” touch at the end with profiles of the two talented individuals, Nate and Barney, who supplied the models for this book. The brick gallery is also incredibly useful for those of us who sometimes need to replace a missing brick from a model kit and have no idea where to begin the search; this could have saved me many hours in the past! In summary, I highly recommend this fabulous book as an addition to your non-fiction collections.

I am grateful to DK Books and NetGalley for allowing me access to an electronic version of Lego Life Hacks in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Allies edited by Shakirah Bourne and Dana Alison Levy

Published by Dorling Kindersley 29 July 2021

This insightful collection of sixteen essays is an excellent resource for anyone who wishes to gain an understanding of the lives of individuals who might feel marginalised by their ethnicity, their religious beliefs, a disability or their sexual identity. It is pitched at a Young Adult readership but I think that the content is valuable for adults of any age. The goal of the book is to educate and enable the reader to use whatever privilege they might possess to become an ally to those who face challenges and perhaps discrimination, micro aggressions or outright bullying in their daily lives. 

I am embarrassed to admit that I had not really encountered the terms ally or micro aggression until I attended a disability workshop run by the well-known campaigner Samantha Renke earlier this year. It was listening to her daily, lived experience of the challenges that she faces negotiating a world that is not designed to enable her, that opened my eyes to the need for support or ally-ship from those of us who can encourage change. This book fulfills the same task, with contributions from authors who generously present their own experiences of either being made to feel marginalised or their attempts to fulfill the role of ally. It explains that micro-aggressions are the constant undermining comments that seem to diminish or dismiss an individual’s worth and that we cannot ignore these if we want to be an ally.

One of the aspects that I most appreciated is the tone of gentle encouragement, and forgiveness throughout. It can be very difficult to keep up with the evolving language around ethnicity or sexuality if you are not immersed in the study of it and several of the essays acknowledge that it is easy to inadvertently use the wrong words. The advice is to listen carefully to anyone who corrects you, apologise for any unintended offence caused by your words and continue to progress on your quest to be an ally. I found this to be very reassuring as I try and sometimes fail to get the language correct. In the opening essay, Dana’s Absolutely Perfect Fail-Safe No Mistakes Guaranteed Way to be an Ally, Dana Alison Levy states:

“Being a good ally without making mistakes is like eating popcorn without dropping any on the floor: it’s possible, but let’s be honest, it rarely happens.”

p.10

My takeaways from this book were that a mindset of openness, civility, empathy and kindness are required from us all to help every member of our society feel valued and that we can all learn from and support each other. I feel indebted to the sixteen authors who were prepared to open up about their experiences to help us all develop empathy and I really like the essay (and illustrated story) format that allows you to dip in and out and refresh your mind whenever necessary. At the end of the book there is a comprehensive list of further resources to explore, suggested by each of the contributors. I think that this will be a valuable resource for anyone who wishes to play their part in making society and their workplace kinder and more inclusive and I would recommend it to all workplace, academic and public libraries.

I am grateful to the publisher Dorling Kindersley and NetGalley for allowing me access to an electronic version of this book for review purposes.