Posts Tagged ‘family’

Odd and True

Cat Winters
Trudchen grew up hearing Odette’s stories of their monster-slaying mother and a magician’s curse. But now that Tru’s older, she’s starting to wonder if her older sister’s tales were just comforting lies, especially because there’s nothing fantastic about her own life—permanently disabled and in constant pain from childhood polio.
In 1909, after a two-year absence, Od reappears with a suitcase supposedly full of weapons and a promise to rescue Tru from the monsters on their way to attack her. But it’s Od who seems haunted by something. And when the sisters’ search for their mother leads them to a face-off with the Leeds Devil, a nightmarish beast that’s wreaking havoc in the Mid-Atlantic states, Tru discovers the peculiar possibility that she and her sister—despite their dark pasts and ordinary appearances—might, indeed, have magic after all.

What are your overall thoughts?

This is my first Cat Winters book so I had no idea what to expect when I requested Odd and True to review. The cover is what immediately drew my attention, it put to mind some well-mannered ladies who are just as comfortable taking tea as they are kicking arse, a kind of 1900’s Buffy.

What I got was a much subtler, but no less enjoyable, character driven story of two sisters reconnecting after a period of enforced separation, untangling the threads of truth from their fantastical childhood recollections of their shared past and the more recent experience of their separation.

I enjoyed the shared storytelling. Truncheon’s provides the first person present tense observations, while her elder sister Odette gradually reveals the sisters shared history, from childhood through to present day 1909. I found myself as equally invested in each narrative and would get to the end of each chapter, not wishing for that perspective to change only to be quickly absorbed in the story of the other sister.

What was your favorite aspect of the book?
I really enjoyed the inclusion of a diverse character in a historically set novel, I this incidence it was the inclusion of Trudchen’s disability. I loved that Trudchen was the heroine of her own story, not in spite of her physical limitations, or by overcoming them, but because of her strength of character, the culmination of her life experiences and empathetic personality.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Tue- Despite being physically less able than her order, self appointed protector sister, she brings her own strengths to the partnership- strength of character, a strong moral center and bloody minded determination- all of which stand her in good stead when she travels across the country with her sister searching for strange beasts, finds herself fighting for the under dog and in a position to be a positive role model for a vulnerable young girl.

Would you recommend this book?
Yes, I would recommend it for people that like slow building character driven novels about female familial relationships and the many different strengths of young women.

Verdict: Sisters seeking the supernatural armed with a suitcase full of shared history find themselves and each other.

Reviewed by Caroline

Publisher: Amulet
Publication Date: September 2017
Format: ebook
Pages: 368
Genre: Historical, Fantasy, Supernatural
Age: YA
Reviewer: Caroline
Source: Netgalley
Challenge: None
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After the Fall

Charity Norman
after the fallIn the quiet of a New Zealand winter’s night, a rescue helicopter is sent to airlift a five-year-old boy with severe internal injuries. He’s fallen from the upstairs veranda of an isolated farmhouse, and his condition is critical. At first, Finn’s fall looks like a horrible accident; after all, he’s prone to sleepwalking. Only his frantic mother, Martha McNamara, knows how it happened. And she isn’t telling. Not yet. Maybe not ever.
Tragedy isn’t what the McNamara family expected when they moved to New Zealand. For Martha, it was an escape. For her artist husband Kit, it was a dream. For their small twin boys, it was an adventure. For sixteen-year-old Sacha, it was the start of a nightmare.
They end up on the isolated east coast of the North Island, seemingly in the middle of a New Zealand tourism campaign. But their peaceful idyll is soon shattered as the choices Sacha makes lead the family down a path which threatens to destroy them all.
Martha finds herself facing a series of impossible decisions, each with devastating consequences for her family.

This was one of the most gripping stories I have read in a while and I dived into it at any available opportunity. Having bought the book quite a while before I read it, I had completely forgotten what the blurb had to say and for me this made it an even more exciting read as I was torn between the characters and as situations unfolded themselves without expectations about what was going to happen. Now I feel that I can’t talk too much about the plot because my experience of reading it with no fore knowledge is what I would recommend to everyone!

So what I will say is that I really liked Martha. She was a complex character facing increasingly difficult choices in her family life. Having a blended family she struggles between her loyalty to her older daughter and her new husband and twin boys. There are demons hiding in the closet too and as the plot twists and turns Martha struggles to make sense of what is happening to her family and what she can do about it to make things better. She so wants to make everything alright and it is easy to identify with her dilemmas.

I also enjoyed the realism in the story, cutting between the present where Martha is sitting beside a comatose Finn in his hospital bed and the story of how they came to be there, beginning with their move from England. They all seem like a normal family, ok, with a few issues, but really, what family doesn’t have any of those! The task of moving to another country, the other side of the world are covered briefly and the family settle into what seems to be an idyllic new life in New Zealand. The cracks appear slowly, and it takes a while for Martha to realise, and then come to terms with what is really going on. That desire to not want to face reality, to protect others and to believe that the worst is over are all things any parent can identify with.

The descriptions of New Zealand were beautiful and appreciated the way that Charity also wove in characters from a Maori background and used their legends in her story telling.

Verdict: This is a riveting family drama and it left me thinking about it for a long time afterwards.

Reviewed by Helen

Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Publication Date: November 2012
Format: eBook
Pages: 357
Genre: contemporary, suspense, family
Age: Adult
Reviewer: Helen
Source: Own copy
Challenge: None
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Looking At The Stars

Jo Cotterill

looking at the starsAmina’s homeland has been ravaged by war for many months, but so far they are safe, together. When a so-called liberating force arrives in the country, the family think their prayers for peace will soon be answered, but they are horribly wrong. The country is thrown into yet further turmoil and Amina’s family is devastated. Her elder brother is accused of being a ringleader in a rebel group and goes into hiding. Her father is then killed for apparently protecting him. The women of the family—Amina, her two sisters, and their mother—have no choice but to leave their home town, along with thousands of others, and head for a refugee camp. But there are even more challenges ahead

I loved this book, it is so honest and innocent but at the same time it is powerful and heart-breaking.

Amina Ambrose lives in Talas, an unsteady Dictatorship country on an unknown continent. The army who run it are called the Kwana and it is starting to exploit its power over the people in Amina’s country. They have made rules in the country that are unjust, such as making females wearing headscarves and men having the power over the women and boys having power over the girls. A revolution is needed to save the country. Amina is about 14; she has an amazing imagination-brilliant for making up stories and telling them to her family. She lives with her Mother-Mamie, her Father-Potta, her older brother-Ruman, her sister, who is a year older-Jenna and her little sister-Vivie.

Kwana have bought in a new rule: ‘Depending on your status or your family’s status you will be given a letter of heritage which you will have to wear at all times’. The letters of heritage determine your rank in life so if a family member was part of the Kwana you would be a letter A. The highest rank is a letter A. Amina’s family is an H. These letters were turning friends against friends and brother against brother. A family friend mysteriously disappeared and on their door was painted the letter Q.

Things started to look very bad. People were being shot, many were punished for saying anything bad against the Kwana and after school one day Ruman decided that he wasn’t going to have it anymore and left to join an underground Rebel movement. Even at night Amina could hear her parents whispering things like: “we’ve got to tell them, sooner or later they’re going to find out”…

War had broken out between the Kwana and an invading country to help save the people of Amina’s country. In the dead of night the Kwana broke into Amina’s house demanding to know where Ruman was. The family didn’t know so in the end the Kwana dragged them out of the house and tried to get answers. Amina tried to lie to save her family but still there was a devastating outcome.

There was no way that Amina’s family could remain in Talas so they left-and got stuck at a checkpoint. The Kwana were examining identification papers to see if they could leave. Sadly Amina’s family had trouble at the checkpoint (by the way, I’m not saying what happened because I don’t want to give it away!) and now Jenna and Amina had lost Vivie and Mamie! Can you guess what happens to the Ambrose family? Read the book to find out!

Verdict: I think this book was a real eye-opener to the wars ravaging other countries in the world. It shows peoples genuine struggle to stay alive and I thought it was a very good book and it was very interesting.

Reviewed by Daisy (13)

Click HERE to read author Jo Cotterill’s fabulous guest post about why boys should read books about girls.

Publisher: Random House Children’s
Publication Date: February 2014
Format: Hardback
Pages: 288
Genre: War
Age: Middle grade
Reviewer: Daisy (13)
Source: Provided by publisher
Challenge: British book
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The Strange And Beautiful Sorrows Of Ava Lavender

Leslye Walton

ava lavenderFoolish love appears to be a Roux family birthright. And for Ava Lavender, a girl born with the wings of a bird, it is an ominous thing to inherit. In her quest to understand her peculiar disposition and a growing desire to join her peers, sixteen-year-old Ava ventures into the wider world. But it is a dangerous world for a naive girl…

Click here to read Caitlyn’s fantastic review.

Posted by Caroline

Publisher: Walker
Publication Date: March 2014
Format: ARC
Pages: 301
Genre: Family saga, Magical realism
Age: YA
Reviewer: Caroline
Source: Provided by publisher
Challenge: Debut book
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A Room Full Of Chocolate

Jane Elson

a room full of chocolateGrace’s fun loving Mum has found a lump. Her north London world of sleepovers, tap dancing and playing the clarinet fall apart when she is sent to live with her grumpy old granddad on his farm in Yorkshire while her mother goes into hospital to get better.
Grace misses her mother so much it hurts, and doesn’t quite understand what is happening to her. And things go from bad to worse when she starts school and becomes the bullies newest target.
But Grace is no longer alone when she meets the wild Megan and her pig, Claude – when she’s with them she feels as if she can confront anything. At Easter time when Grace misses her mum the most, she knows she must find a way to get to London. With Megan’s help, she hatches a plan to run away that involves Claude, chocolate Easter eggs and a risky ID swap. But it’s all worth it if it means that she finally gets to see her mum.

I started reading A Room Full Of Chocolate with the expectation that I was going to love it. The synopsis had caught my attention the first time I come across it, while the extremely positive reviews of bloggers I respect had me moving it swiftly to the top of my TBR. While there was so much that I loved about this debut middle grade novel my biggest issue was that I was unable to disengage my adult, or more correctly parental brain.

I was immediately drawn to Grace and her seemly contradictory story. Her innocent, artless voice, filled with imagination and fuelled by love felt completely genuine.

I was blown away with the author’s exploration of Grace’s emotions. There was a really authentic quality to the experience and I found that I was able to fully empathise with Grace’s feelings of bewilderment, frustration and at times, anger. The descriptions used to express Graces emotions were simple enough for the target audience to comprehend and yet fully encapsulated the experience and the emotion, I couldn’t help thinking, “yes, that’s exactly how that feels”.

Megan, the rainbow girl, was a fantastic character. She really was a refreshing splash of colour in Grace’s otherwise gloomy grey world. She was unique, confident in herself and a fast but loyal friend.

However, this story created such conflict within me. On the one hand, I felt my heart break a little each time Grace attempted to deny to herself what was really happening to her mother. I just wanted to wrap her up and protect her from ever having to find out the hurtful truth. Yet I also felt her frustration at the adults around her for doing just that.

While I enjoyed the journey Grace and Megan undertook to get to Graces mother in London, willing them to succeed and feeling tension at the obstacles they encountered, as a parent I couldn’t help feeling disappointed at the absence of repercussions for such a journey. While I could probably overlook this issue had the book been a fantasy, as a contemporary book grounded in realism, I felt that more reference should have been made to the safety issues associated with a 10 and 11 year old taking off on their own for hundreds of miles.

The bullying storyline escalated quickly and resolved violently. I found the bullying scenes difficult to read as they really engaged my emotions. The use of technology to aid the bullies was an interesting and modern twist. Although I would have preferred Grace to have dealt with the situation differently – by confiding in a trusted adult – I am content that through her mishandling of the situation the message, to talk to someone and to not keep harmful secrets, will be received by the reader.

I felt uncomfortable with the way adults were generally portrayed within the book. The teachers came across as incompetent and far too shouty with very little regard to Grace’s situation as a new student or her family circumstances, and completely oblivious to the bullying she was experiencing.

Though her behaviour occurred through her attempts to protect Grace, Grace’s mother was secretive and dishonest. Grace’s father was completely selfish and her grandfather cold, strict and judgmental against Megan’s family – the only “nice adults”. Considering they plied Grace with chocolate, smoked “funny cigarettes” and encouraged Grace to be deceitful to her grandfather (sneaking out at night) I really don’t blame his misgivings.
My conflicted feelings persist. There is so much to love and treasure about this book; the friendship, the voice, the emotional expression, that I would never deny my child the opportunity of reading it. However, the middle grade category covers such a broad spectrum developmentally that I would be more comfortable recommending this book to an 11+ year old experienced reader than I would a nine year old.

Regardless of the personal nit picks I have expressed A Room Full Of Chocolate addresses some very serious themes; parental illness, honesty between parent and child, bullying and personal safety, which I would be reluctant for my (hypothetical) nine year old to explore on their own. Subsequently, I think that this would be a fantastic book for parents to share with their child, sparking dialogue about the issues and emotions raised and allowing the family unit to explore alternative courses of action.

Verdict: Unlike chocolate, this one is for sharing.

Reviewed by Caroline

Publisher: Hodder
Publication Date: February 2014
Format: Paperback
Pages: 256
Genre: Contemporary
Age: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Caroline
Source: Provided by publisher
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The Suitcase Kid

Jacqueline Wilson

suitcase kidAndrea West’s parents are divorced, and her tiny stuffed rabbit, Radish, seems her only comfort in the world. She must leave the home she loves with the mulberry tree in the front yard and deal with parents who still fight, stepparents, step-siblings, two different bedrooms (neither of which is really hers), loneliness, and an acute longing for the past. Her grades sink, her friends drift away, and she’s not quite sure how to fix any of it. Eventually, though, a new equilibrium begins to settle on her life. Honest and true-to-life, Andy’s story shows that dealing with divorce is never easy.

This is a really good book.

When Andy’s parents split up she doesn’t know who to live with, her mum or her dad!

She decides that she and her Sylvanian family rabbit, Radish will spend a week at each house. But when Carrie (Dad’s partner) announces she’s pregnant, Andy (Andrea) gets to choose the name and boy is that a bad name.

Every day on her way to and from school Andy climbs into a Garden in Lakespur lane, but when she drops Radish down a tree what will she do?

I don’t want to give away too much because you’ll have to read this amazing book.

Verdict: I think this book is for Girls 9 to 13.

Reviewed by Izzy(9)

Publisher: Transworld
Publication Date: October 2007
Format: Paperback
Pages: 160
Genre: Contemporary fiction, family
Age: Middle grade
Reviewer: Izzy (9)
Source: Borrowed
Challenge: British book

Publisher: Corgi yearling
Source: Daisy’s library
Format: PB
Reviewer: Izzy

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The Patchwork Marriage

Jane Green

Andi has spent much of her adult life looking for the perfect man, and at thirty-seven, she’s finally found him. Ethan–divorced with two daughters, Emily and Sophia–is a devoted father and even better husband. Always hoping one day she would be a mother, Andi embraces the girls like they were her own. But in Emily’s eyes, Andi is an obstacle to her father’s love, and Emily will do whatever it takes to break her down. When the dynamics between the two escalate, they threaten everything Andi believes about love, family, and motherhood—leaving both women standing at a crossroad in their lives…and in their hearts.

I actually really enjoyed reading this but as I come to write the review I fear it might sound a bit negative!  I did have many moments in the story when I was frustrated with the characters and wanted to give them a piece of my mind.  A bit like shouting at the telly I suppose!  However I was drawn into the plot and the family dynamic.  Having worked with young people and spent time talking to many about life in step families, I felt that the views and feelings at the heart of this were incredibly common and though it may not be a realistic account of blended family life it resonated with my experience of hearing those teenagers stories.

As it says in the burb above Andi and Ethan are married and Andi is step mother to Emily and Sophia.  Sophia has accepted the situation but Emily is doing everything in her power to make life difficult.  She is an intelligent child and seems to know she has her father at her finger tips, manipulating him to get her own way in every situation.  Andi feels neglected and impotent to deal with this as Ethan seems unable to stand up to his ‘little girl’ as he copes with the guilt of the divorce and all that came with it.

Things are further complicated by the fact that Andi would dearly love to have a child of her own and has been unable to do so.  Ethan has refused to consider adoption and Andi’s anger and hurt are looking for a channel!  The pressure on Andi and Ethan’s relationship is at breaking point as they are unable to find a way to manage any of these issues effectively.  Throw into the mix further problems from Ethan’s ex-wife who is an alcoholic, Emily’s lack of friends and Andi meeting a handsome engaging man and think; is it any wonder things aren’t going well?!

The characters in the story are generally very self-centred; the focus is on their needs.  On the whole they seem to be unable to see someone else’s point of view or understand how their actions might make things worse rather than better.  I know that we are all selfish deep down but they seemed so blinkered sometimes.  Ethan seems completely incapable of seeing Emily’s manipulation; Andi can’t see that having a baby would probably be the last straw for everyone.  Although it has to be said I thought Ethan really dealt with whole situation totally unfeelingly.  I did have sympathy for the characters, being childless when you want a child is terrible, making up to your child for putting them through a difficult divorce is totally understandable, but they just could not communicate effectively with each other.  The naivety on both sides in creating this knew family was blindingly obvious.

I did like how the novel was told from the perspective of many of the different characters.  This worked particularly well in building up a picture of Emily as seen through Andi’s eyes so that she seemed completely awful and then hitting a chapter from Emily’s standpoint that made you completely re-evaluate her.  There was that lostness in her, and also recognition of her inability to control her temper and that Andi often wasn’t so bad but Emily just can’t help herself.  A real teenager!

I also must mention that my favourite characters were the two gay men who lived next door.  Their dinner parties sounded amazing and often they were the only ones who spoke any kind of common sense at all!

As the story develops things become more complicated and I can’t tell you more or it’ll be a spoiler!  But it is interesting that even though there is some resolution this is not a happy ending type fairy tale. Even so in some ways it was too tied up for me, after all the messiness of their lives there is a lot to work out and some of the resolutions found I didn’t like, some of it is too convenient. 

Verdict: On the whole this is a good reflection of the imperfectness of family life and the difficulties faced by blended families.

Reviewed by Helen

Publisher: Penguin
Publication Date: June 2012
Format: eBook
Pages: 416
Genre: Chick Lit, Family
Age: Adult
Reviewer: Helen
Source: Own Copy
Challenge: None
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Our Baby

Tony Bradman and Lynn Breeze

A toddler takes pride in all the things that he can do – get out of bed, use a potty, do up buttons – and baby can’t. He is especially pleased with himself when his parents can’t stop baby crying – but he can.

The beauty of this book, is the service it provided to my daughter when she struggled to cope with the change in family dynamic when her baby brother arrived. On particular days when she was obviously frustrated that her brother seemed to be getting more attention than her. She would often request that I read her this book.

This is because the book follows a simple premise of highlighting daily activities that a baby can’t do, but a toddler can. The activities are, getting out of bed, using the potty, washing, dressing, getting down from the table, climbing stairs, being restrained in a stroller and playing with older toys. Okay it may be viewed as ‘smug’ but when you’re so young, it’s surely a good thing to be reminded that being a baby ain’t all it’s cracked up to be and being the older sibling can be pretty darn cool.

Verdict: Admittedly it’s a tad too simplistic and niche to be a book guaranteed to be, ‘loved by all’. However, if you know of a young child about to become an older sibling and come across this book, it may help them to adjust and feel better about themselves just like my daughter did

Reviewed by Karen

Publisher: Collins
Publication Date: May 1995
Format: Paperback
Pages: 24
Genre: Picture book, family, Issues
Age: Picture Books, Early Readers
Reviewer: Karen
Source: Own Copy
Challenge: British Book
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