New Review: Show Stopper by Hayley Barker

Show Stopper

Hayley Barker’s debut YA novel Show Stopper will be published by Scholastic on 1st June 2017.  An English teacher and huge YA fiction fan, Hayley says being published is the most exciting thing that has ever happened to her! She was inspired to write Show Stopper by her fears about the growing wave of crime and animosity against minority groups in England.

Show Stopper by Hayley Barker

A dazzling, high-octane read filled with death-defying acrobatics, circus crowds with an appetite for disaster, and two forbidden teenage lovers trying to escape the shackles of their very different lives. Set in a near-future England where the poorest people in the land must watch their children be taken by a travelling circus – to perform at the mercy of hungry lions, sabotaged high wires and a demonic ringmaster. The ruling class visit the circus as an escape from their structured, high-achieving lives – pure entertainment with a bloodthirsty edge. Ben, the teenage son of a draconian government minister, visits the circus for the first time and falls instantly in love with Hoshiko, a young performer. They come from harshly different worlds – but must join together to escape the circus and put an end to its brutal sport.

Living in a dystopian future set in the UK, Ben is a Pure and the son of one the most powerful families in the ruling class; his mother being the Dreg Control Minister. The Dregs are outcasts – immigrants who over the last 100 years have now become so reviled they are like slaves.  Controlled by the Pures, it is the Dregs and their children who provide a never ending, and often needed, supply of performers for the deadly circus.  Ben is not like his mother or the rest of his family and hates having to ‘keep up appearances’. Through his relationship with the family housekeeper who herself is a Dreg, Ben begins to see the pain and anguish they suffer.  When he finally gets to see the deadly circus with his own eyes, he realises the full extent of the horror before him and cannot stop himself from trying to save Hoshiko and escape from a life of almost totalitarian control.

A story with much to admire, Show Stopper is a roller-coaster ride told from the points of view of the two central characters, who both have to draw on all their bravery and strength to succeed.  Ben’s mother is horrible and you do feel great sympathy for him. It is no surprise he falls for the beautiful but fierce Hoshiko, who herself lacks security of her real family, with only her fellow performers to rely on.  There are parallels between Ben and Hoshiko’s very different lives; they both crave the love of their families, suffer at the hands of bullies and have to ‘perform’ for various audiences.  Although the penalty for Hoshiko is far more severe if she fails…. Show Stopper makes knife-throwing in an ordinary circus look like a walk in the park and with the positively evil Ringmaster in charge, there are plenty edge-of-your-seat moments!

The circus is a great setting for a story and the narrative brilliantly captures the atmosphere and excitement – as well the danger and fear. The cast of circus characters are well imagined and you feel great empathy for all of them having to perform in such frightening circumstances.  The scenario of the Pures letting their hair down, transforming into a baying mob and watching the ‘dregs’ of society perform to the death is sadly quite believable, even if somewhat extreme. With some gruesome scenes bringing a definite flavour of horror to this novel, it’s not for the faint-hearted. However, the author succeeds in highlighting the potential ramifications if the increasing hate and prejudice that is embedded in some parts of our society is not addressed. I’d recommend Show Stopper for YA readers who enjoy a thrilling, dark, romance. Watch out for evil Ringmaster!

Follow Hayley on Twitter @HayleyABarkerFind out more at www.scholastic.co.uk. Read my interview with Hayley here. With thanks to Scholastic for sending me this book to review.

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Author Interview: Wanuri Kahiu

I’m delighted to welcome to the blog Wanuri Kahiu to talk about her first picture book and the inspiration behind it. The Wooden Camel is a beautiful story full of hope, written by Wanuri, illustrated by Manuela Adreani and published by Lantana. Wanuri is an internationally renowned filmmaker having won awards including five African movie Academy Awards, Best Narrative Feature at the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles, Best Short Film at the Cannes Independent Film Festival and the ‘Citta di Venezia 2010’ award in Venice, Italy. She is one of the TED Fellows of 2017.  She currently lives with her partner and two children in Nairobi.

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Thank you for joining us today!  Can you tell us about the inspiration for writing The Wooden Camel? I am fascinated by Lake Turkana and I have been for a while. It is the largest permanent desert lake in the world and is under threat of extinction. so the people who have lived and based their culture and tradition around the lake will soon be pushed elsewhere. I write to draw attention to the region and the people.

The theme of family comes through strongly in the narrative; Etabo’s relationships with his father and siblings are beautifully reflected. Was this inspired by your own family relationships and feelings about the idea of family in general? I have a daughter and a son who are my most precious gifts and my husband has two other children. His relationship with them is truly exceptional to watch and I wanted to honour him. I also wanted to represent the creativity and kindness of the sister and her love for her brother as witnessed in the relationship between my daughter and her three brothers.
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Etabo calls on the Sky God to help him keep his dream alive. How important do you think faith and belief is for people in achieving their dreams? Dreaming is unachievable without belief. We must believe in ourselves and in the universe that our dreams will be delivered and that whatever dreams we have are valid and that they are sufficient. And when dreams come true there is always an element of magic, of some unexplainable spirit like Akuj the Sky God.
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The illustrations for the story are stunning. How did you work with the illustrator to achieve this? It must have been amazing seeing your words and come to life.
Working with Manuela was a dream. I had never worked with an illustrator before and watching her bring words to life was extraordinary. Sometimes she took the lead and I would rewrite the scene to add to her writing rather than the other way around. Her attention to detail in the clothes and the background and the world have made it the most pleasurable reading experience.
Do you have plans for any more children’s books and if so are you able to share with us what you’re working on? Yes. More books and more YA books to come. Too soon to talk about but I thank Lantana Publishing for taking a chance on an unknown writer and giving me the confidence to believe that I am capable of publishing and that my dreams are enough.
I can’t wait to read your next book and wish you every success with your writing; thank you for taking the time to share your experience with us!
Find out more at www.wanurikahiu.com.  Read my review of The Wooden Camel.

Guest review: Outdoor fun and nutty nature; what’s not to like?!

On this beautiful sunny day, it seems very apt to be posting about two brilliant new books by Andy Seed that celebrate nature and the world of fun that can be had outdoors.  And to tell you all about them in a guest post is my husband, Mr Dilly. When these arrived via bookpost he was quick to grab them from the TBR pile. Such was his enjoyment of them he wanted to share it with everyone, so welcome Mr Dilly and thank you for joining the blog today!

“Thank you for having me! When I was a child, I spent a lot of time playing with my friends and family – outside. Be it with cobbled together ‘guns’ and re-enacting famous battle scenes from bits of wood my dad had left lying around; riding our bikes down all kinds of slopes and frequently crashing headfirst into things; sledging down icy slopes on bits of polythene sheeting until our backsides were frozen, not really thinking of the barbed wire fence promising imminent injury at the bottom of our triumphant sledge runs!

I’m sure some of these things will spark similar memories from most of a certain age. Talking to my father, his childhood wasn’t much different in the sense that so much time was spent playing outside. That’s been the way for generations. For today’s age the lure of screens seems to have put an end to much of this, a huge shame, as staying inside and playing with what is essentially someone else’s imagination and not our own is not our ‘natural’ game.

So on the back of this comes two books from Andy Seed that I can’t recommend enough, ‘The Anti Boredom Book of Brilliant Outdoor Things To Do‘ (illustrated by Scott Garrett, published by Bloomsbury) and ‘Nutty Nature Facts and Jokes’ (illustrated by Sarah Horne, published by Nosy Crow in association with The National Trust). The perfect antidote to anyone who thinks playing outside is boring and sees nothing fun in nature. Full of ideas, fun facts, jokes and complemented with fantastic illustrations they are a great way to entertain the kids (and yourself!).

‘The Anti Boredom Book of Brilliant Outdoor Things To Do‘  has games galore to play outdoors.’ Blind Man’s Splash ‘ sounds great fun, and will be happening in my household when things warm up a bit…blindfolds and water pistols: what’s not to like?! Then there are things to make such as giant bubbles, which I did with my nephew, niece and son, just pure fascination and joy from them as they all competed to make the biggest bubble! There are so many activities and ideas all put together in fun and accessible way for all the family no matter what their age. Next up for my family…build a bivouac…yes I had no idea what one was either!

‘Nutty Nature Facts and Jokes’.  Well all I can say is me and my 7 year old son sat down to read this and ended up in floods of tears of laughter – his favourite joke? “How do you keep flies out of the kitchen? Put a bucket of poo in the living room’. Childish right? But that’s the point, and what an antidote to much of the other imagery floating about and aimed supposedly at kids nowadays. This book was just hilarious in parts, fascinating as well, with so many interesting facts alongside the jokes. Easy to pick up and flick though for children aged 5 onward – I say onward because I have considerable years on that and found it fantastic! On that note, I leave you with another joke: ‘Famous people who love nature – Elvis Parsley’….Elvis has left the building, and so should you; take the kids and buy these books and then get outside. You won’t regret it!”

Thank you Mr Dilly.  I will add that, to see anyone (but of course especially family) enjoying books in the way mine enjoyed these two books is quite simply a joy!  

Find out more at www.andyseed.com, www.sarahhorne.co.uk and www.garrettworld.co.uk

With thanks to Bloomsbury and Nosy Crow for sending these great books for review.

 

New review: Gaslight by Eloise Williams

Gaslight is the second novel by Eloise Williams, published by Firefly Press.  Eloise grew up in Wales and studied for a masters in Creative Writing at Swansea. She also worked in the theatre and studied drama. Gaslight is set in Victorian Cardiff and gives a wonderful insight into life behind the scenes in a Victorian theatre, as well as a cracking adventure!

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Gaslight by Eloise Williams

I was found at the docks in Cardiff, lying like a gutted fish at the water’s edge. All Nansi knows is that her mother disappeared on the day she was fished out of the docks. She can’t remember anything else. Now, with no family to turn to, she works for Sid at the Empire Theatre, sometimes legally, sometimes thieving, trying to earn enough money to hire a detective to search for her mother.

Everything changes when Constance and Violet join the theatre. Nansi is forced to be part of Violet’s crooked psychic act.  But it’s Constance who is keeping the real secrets. Nansi is about to learn that her world is even more dangerous that she realised. Can she save her mother? Can she save herself?

Nansi’s life at the Empire Theatre is hard and fraught with danger.  With the vile Sid being her ‘father’ figure – something he constantly reminds her of – she has no choice but trust him and all his schemes, just to keep a roof over her head and the hope of finding her mother alive.  Nansi’s only comfort is her friendship with an orphan called Bee, who is more like a younger sister to her. Nansi is fiercely protective of Bee, determined to try and make her life easier.  With no memory to help her, Nansi is without clues to her mother’s disappearance and it’s only when the new arrival Constance takes up residence in Nansi’s room, that it appears that her trust in Sid is truly misplaced. The mystery surrounding her mother’s disappearance starts to unravel.   What follows is a dangerous and thrilling adventure to find the truth- and avoid disappearing herself on the way!

A wonderful Victorian romp with echoes of Dickens, Gaslight is a thoroughly enjoyable read. The narrative unfolds at a good pace and the setting is vividly described, creating a deliciously dark picture of a life in Victorian Cardiff.  From the grimy streets to the spotlit stage, the atmosphere positively draws you in. I loved Nansi; she is bold and brave and doesn’t allow her fears to get the better of her.  She’s exactly the sort of heroine I loved reading about when I was a girl! She holds on to the hope of finding her mother and this is carried throughout the novel, even when she’s at her lowest ebb. Her relationship with Bee is lovely and I love that the author weaves the joy stories can bring into their lives.  Scary and gritty at times the cast of characters includes thieves, mudlarks and even an evil asylum proprietor.  As the plot thickens, the brilliant storytelling takes you on a thrilling journey, with twists galore.  The added interest of life in a Victorian theatre and the intrigue behind the scenes ensures Gaslight will entertain all readers!

Postscript…I think my favourite character must be the maid at the end…called Dilly!! Thank you Eloise; very happy to have inspired the name (as I discovered through the wonder of Twitter!)

Watch the book trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SEfQGT_-EYw

Find out more at www.eloisewilliams.com and www.fireflypress.co.uk. Follow Eloise on Twitter @Eloisejwilliams .

With thanks to Firefly Press for sending me this book to review.

New Review: Early learning at the Museum

Nosy Crow and the British Museum are working in partnership to produce a range of books for children aged 0-12.  Early Learning at the Museum – ABC and 123 are among the first to be released, the idea being to encourage young children to engage with early learning concepts.

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A whole lot more than your average counting or alphabet book, these lovely board books celebrate the wonderful artefacts that can be found at the museum and indeed from around the world.

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As well as teaching children number sequences and letters and words, they show some of the amazing objects that make up the museum’s collections. The lovely colourful photographs celebrate many cultures introducing little ones to the idea of the similarities and differences we share.

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A helpful index at the back of the book shows where and when each item is from.  Children and adults alike can marvel at the wonders from around the world and learn even more by using the QR code at the back of the book to visit the website – or perhaps even plan a visit to the museum itself!  A great opportunity for early learning and encouraging curiosity, these are well worth adding to your little ones bookshelf.

Find out more www.nosycrow.com or visit the British Museum website. With thanks to Nosy Crow for sending me these lovely books to review.

 

One of those days…

We all have them.  Things are just a little busy, a little off kilter and seem a long way from books and reading, but all part and parcel of running a secondary (and sixth form) school library.  I wrote a few verses, a little expression of how my day has been today…..Tomorrow, it’ll be all about the books.  That’s a promise!!!

Today in the library.

The printer’s out of paper miss!

Oh dear the cupboards empty

I’ll have to go and get some

Where did I put that key?

Have you got a stapler miss?

Don’t forget the please.

I need a pen miss,

They don’t grow on trees!

Miss, I’ve spilt my drink!

Well what’s it doing here?

You can use the tissues

I always have them near.

Would you like to buy some books?

I’d love to but have no money

What about for next term?

Here’s hoping if we’re lucky!

I don’t have a classroom

Yes you can bring them in.

Do you mind if I just nip out?

But the lesson’s about to begin?!

I’m doing molecular biology

Of course, I can help

I don’t know where the books are miss

Why don’t you try the shelf?!

Can you put the chairs back?

They don’t go over there!

I’d rather not lift them again

It’s getting hard to bear!

Can I use the stapler please?

I don’t where it’s gone!

How about a paper clip?

I can’t find a single one!

That’s a nice display miss

Thank you, only five more to go!

Now where is that shiny paper?

It will make a good show.

Do you have that book by thingy?

The one with the blue cover?

I think his name begins with H?

Or maybe it’s by another?

I’m sorry I’d love to help you

But I actually cannot hear!

Excuse me can you keep it down,

To a slightly lower roar?!

Sorry miss we’re just excited

We’ve got the highest score

It’s not time for gaming, boys

Don’t do it anymore!

Miss I’ve lost my bag,

Have you seen it anywhere?

Ah yes I just found it

Left behind the chair.

I just need to print something

But it’s closing time you see

Please miss, it won’t take long

Oh alright, but I need a cup of tea.

The printer’s out of paper miss…

Here we go again…

Victoria Dilly © May 2017

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New review: Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined by Danielle Younge-Ullman

Danielle Younge-Ullman a novelist, playwright and freelance writer who has always had a passion for books, language and storytelling. Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined is published by Scholastic and is Danielle’s second YA novel.

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Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined by Danielle Younge-Ullman

Ingrid doesn’t belong on a hard-core wilderness trek with a bunch of ‘at risk youth’. She only agreed to come so that her mother would let her attend her dream school.  But as the group journeys further into the wilderness, the past becomes impossible to avoid. Maybe she does belong here after all.

Ingrid has always been her singing sensation mother’s number one fan.  Margot-Sophia Lalonde was an opera singer on the brink of superstardom, when her career was halted abruptly and their lives fell apart.  Ingrid has been picking up the pieces ever since; but maybe now it’s her turn to shine.  With the realisation of her dreams on the horizon, Ingrid’s mother only agrees to let Ingrid complete her senior year in a school of her choice IF she goes on a trek through the wilderness.  Ingrid finds herself in the middle of nowhere and very quickly realises it’s not what she expected. Instead of a beautiful tree-lined campsite, Ingrid finds herself wading knee deep in mud, trekking through waves of mosquitos and trying to avoid the searching questions of the camp counsellors. What was her mother thinking? How could she make her spend even one day in the company of such delinquents? She’s not the one with the problem…is she?

Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined is a great title, for an equally great story. With a bittersweet humour running throughout, it explores the experiences of a teenage girl who has had to face more than her fair share of troubles.  The story is told through journal entry letters written from Ingrid to her mother, alongside a narrative focusing on the events that brought Ingrid to this point in her life. Ingrid’s experiences of adjusting from a nomadic upbringing and the consequent fallout resulting in her mother’s depression, have given her more determination than perhaps even she realises.  Ingrid’s dry wit and resolve shines through, even when she’s right at the end of her rope. We follow Ingrid’s emotional journey of self-discovery, meeting those individuals who have had significant impact on her past; the repercussions of which she still feels.  We also meet her fellow campmates all of whom have a story to share that will help Ingrid better understand herself. A huge amount of research must have gone into this book to make each character so believable.

Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined is truly well-observed and I particularly enjoyed Ingrid’s often humorous descriptions of the daily nightmare of the trek. I had nothing but sympathy for her having to hike in soaking wet clothes, being bitten to death and deal with the ‘circle’ sessions around the campfire.  This extended to huge empathy when you discover what she has been dealing with. I found her mother at times infuriating, but also felt desperately sad for her and could completely relate to her desire to protect her child.  Many will relate to Ingrid’s relationships with her school friends, her first love and her responses to the dilemmas she faces. But perhaps most poignant was how the story demonstrated that we all create facades around ourselves for self-preservation; to try and control life. If we admit to ourselves and others that everything is not ‘fine’, we can then face our past and our biggest fears and in doing so, we can move forward.  A great read for all young people.

Find out more at www.danielleyoungeullman.com and follow Danielle on Twitter . With thanks to Scholastic for my copy of Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined.  You can read my interview with Danielle here.