Our Castle by the Sea by Lucy Strange


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61scQWukLuLFor the fourth meeting of The Book Fanatics (Mwah Ha Ha Ha Ha) Year 8 Book Club the group voted for Our Castle by the Sea by Lucy Strange.

What follows are the perspicacious ponderings of Ernest, Garfield, Gloria, Karen and Oggy. (Real Year 8 pupils, not their real names.)

Book: Our Castle by the Sea by Lucy Strange

Genre: Historical Fiction

Describe this book in three words:
Ernest: quiet, historic, engaging
Garfield: historic, engaging, nice
Gloria: odd but cool
Karen: history, sisters, crime
Oggy: war, bombs, death – lots of it!

If this book was an animal, what kind of animal would it be?
A hermit crab, a stone animal, a goldfish, a dragon, an octopus.

If this book was a colour, what colour would it be?
Space grey, a whirl of colour, green, and yellow. 

Main character/characters & their Hogwarts Houses:
Petra: Hufflepuff
Everyone else: Slytherin

Which character would you most like to be friends with?
Ernest: Mutti
Garfield: Grandpa Joe
Gloria: The Sea Monster
Karen: Magda because she is cool
Oggy: Magda

What decision would you have made differently from the main character?
Ernest would have told on Michael, everyone else would have pushed him off the cliff. Garfield and Gloria would have followed Magda. Karen would’ve told Magda about Michael. Oggy would’ve told everyone’s secrets.

Who would you cast in a movie version of this book?
In Ermentrude’s absence, Greta Thunberg was unanimously cast as Petra. Gloria suggested Jennifer Lawrence for Mutti and Tom Holland for Michael. Karen also suggested Tom Holland for Michael and Emma Watson for Magda. Oggy suggested Ian Somerhalder for Michael.

What did you enjoy the most about this book?
Ernest enjoyed the secrecy, Garfield liked the history, Gloria and Oggy liked Michael, and Karen liked the suspense.

Have you read any other books you could recommend to someone who likes this book:
Letters from the Lighthouse by Emma Carroll

Give the book a star rating out of five:
An average of 3.5 stars.

Best Children’s Books 2019


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We are truly in a golden age of children’s fiction and there are so many amazing new children’s books that I still want to read, but here are some of the best ones I have read this year:

Starfell: Willow Moss and the Lost Day
(Starfell #1) by Dominique Valente

One of my favourites: the delightful and charming story of Willow Moss, the youngest and least impressive witch in her family. Willow’s gift is for finding lost things, which doesn’t seem very exciting, until the day that the most powerful witch in Starfell comes to Willow for help in locating last Tuesday – which has mysteriously gone missing. Willow sets off to find last Tuesday with the monster under her bed (who is definitely NOT a cat and will get very angry and explode if you call him that). I thoroughly enjoyed this book, it’s full of funny, inventive detail, great characters, and is beautifully illustrated throughout by Sarah Warburton. Absolutely enchanting!

Roller Girl
by Victoria Jamieson

With more and more kids reading ebooks these days, a graphic novel is a perfect Christmas book gift. (I’ve gifted one copy of this book already.) Astrid has always done everything with her best friend Nicole. So when Astrid falls in love with roller derby and signs up for a summer camp, she’s sure Nicole will come too, until Nicole signs up for ballet camp instead. Astrid sets off for roller derby camp alone and discovers that it’s a lot more difficult that she thought it would be. I loved this funny empowering story about friendship, bravery and resilience set in the crazy world of roller derby.

The Star Outside my Window
by Onjali Q. Rauf

From the author of The Boy at the Back of the Class, Onjali Rauf tackles another tricky and topical subject in her latest book, The Star Outside My Window: domestic violence and in particular the impact this has on children. If this sounds like a bit much for a young audience (I was slightly horrified when I realised I’d given this book as a prize for a nine-year-old), be reassured that the issue is treated with sensitivity and there are helpful warnings and advice at the beginning and the end of the book. Ten-year-old Aniyah has just arrived at a new foster home with her five-year-old brother. She is struggling to understand what has happened to her family but when she sees a news story about a competition to name a new star she realises that the star must be her Mum and she makes a daring plan to travel to Greenwich to tell the astronomers what the star should be called. In the process she finds out what really happened to her Mum and she finds a new family. It’s a devastating, heartbreaking story (even writing the review is making me cry) but somehow the author manages to finish on a hopeful note. The Star Outside my Window is a powerful story with the potential to help those who have experienced violence at home, but also to inspire kindness and empathy in those who haven’t. Highly recommended.

The Girl Who Speaks Bear
by Sophie Anderson

Yanka was found in a bear cave as a child and has always been a little different to everyone else in her village – taller and stronger than all the other children, who call her ‘Yanka the Bear’. After an accident leaves Yanka changed, she goes in search of the bear who raised her to find answers about who and what she is. As Yanka journeys through the forest she meets some other characters and they share stories with each other (including another house with chicken legs) and eventually Yanka must team up with all her new friends to defeat a dragon, break a curse and discover who her family really is. This is an enchanting, lyrical adventure, based on Russian folklore, full of wonderful characters, stories, and a heartfelt message about friendship and family. I particularly enjoyed Mousetrap the house weasel who has an inflated idea of himself but, as it turns out, does actually have some bizarre and useful skills.

Brightstorm: A Sky-Ship Adventure (Sky-Ship Adventure #1) by Vashti Hardy

Maudie and Arthur are twins left alone when their father doesn’t return from an airship expedition, but there are suspicious circumstances surrounding his disappearance and their father stands accused of breaking the explorer’s code. The twins must find a way to join another airship expedition to see if they can find their father and clear their family name. A thrilling steampunk-style adventure full of brilliant characters, magical creatures and exciting technology. I thoroughly enjoyed this – highly recommended.

Can You See Me?
by Libby Scott, Rebecca Westcott

11-year-old Tally is starting secondary school but she has a secret that only her close friends and family know – Tally is autistic and she spends a lot of time and energy trying to act like everyone else so she will fit in. Tally’s narrative is interspersed with diary excerpts written by 11-year-old Libby Scott inspired by her own experience of autism. Autism, at the milder end of the spectrum, does tend to be portrayed in books and films as a fun personality quirk but this story reveals the struggles and anxiety that many autistic people hide. Can You See Me resonates with warmth and authenticity – a thoughtful, informative and moving book.

Not My Fault
by Cath Howe

Maya and Rose are sisters, but that’s about all they have in common. Rose is neat, diligent, and a star gymnast, but is also secretly eaten up with guilt about Maya’s accident. Maya is charismatic, chaotic, and driven to self-destructive behaviour by physical pain and anger about her accident. Maya and Rose are not talking to each other, but a school residential trip to Wales will be the catalyst that makes or breaks their relationship. The story is told from both of their perspectives and beautifully illustrates the ways that siblings can know each other so well, but also completely misunderstand each other. Sometimes it’s harder to forgive your family than anyone else, but Not My Fault is a prescription for sibling empathy. Highly recommended.

A Pinch of Magic
(A Pinch of Magic #1) by Michelle Harrison

A Pinch of Magic is the story of the three Widdershins sisters, three magical objects and a terrible curse that has been passed down through generations of Widdershins women. Betty has always longed to escape from Crowstone and find adventure out beyond the confines of the The Poacher’s Pocket, but when she discovers the truth about the curse Betty finds herself thrust into an situation that could break the curse forever but it could also be the death of her and her sisters. This story has all the elements you could possibly want from a magical middle-grade adventure – an atmospheric setting, a thrilling plot and a brilliant protagonist. Loved it.

Legacy (
Keeper of the Lost Cities #8) by Shannon Messenger

One of the girls at school turned me on to this series and I have to agree that it is thoroughly addictive. In book 1, Keeper of the Lost Cities, 12-year-old Sophie discovers she’s a telepathic elf and is whisked off to Elf-Hogwarts to start her education. It sounds slightly derivative but it is a page turner and by book 2 Sophie’s world is well established and her adventures are off to solid start. This is book 8 in the series and supposedly book 9 will be the final book. Keeper of the Lost Cities is a fantasy adventure with a very mild hint of romance (team Foster-Keefe forever) and highly recommended for series binge-readers in particular.

Magnus Chase and the Ship of the Dead
(Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard #3) by Rick Riordan

This is the third instalment in the Magnus Chase series based on Norse mythology, in which Magnus and his friends must defeat Loki in order to prevent Ragnarok. This series is longer and raises some more complex issues that Percy Jackson, and as such I think it is intended for a slightly older child or as the next level up for those die-hard Percy Jackson fans. I read this one aloud to the kids, it’s a very long book with some extremely hard-to-pronounce Norse vocabulary, but as always it is a hilarious, action-packed adventure. (Our favourite part is always the chapter headings.) The story of Percy Jackson began as a way for Rick Riordan to give his son a dyslexic, ADHD character role model, and Rick continues this tradition of inclusivity in the Magnus Chase series. What is particularly great in this series, is that the inclusive characters are not token figureheads – they are very deliberately and purposefully used. No one ever forgets to speak to Hearthstone in sign language, however awkward that is to the scene, Alex Fierro, Magnus’s crush is gender-fluid, and Magnus always has to be aware which pronouns to use, and of course Muslim Valkyrie Samira has to pray, wear her hijab and fast for Ramadan – in between saving the world.

Aru Shah and the End of Time
(Pandava Quintet #1) by Roshani Chokshi

I also love the fact that Rick Riordan uses his platform to support other writers through his Rick Riordan Presents series. Which brings us to Aru Shah. Aru Shah and the End of Time features two kickass protagonists, Aru and Mini, a disgruntled pigeon, and huge cast of gods and monsters who help and hinder Aru and Mini in their quest to stop the sinister Sleeper. This is a funny, fast-paced adventure story based on Hindu Mythology, perfect for fans of Rick Riordan as it follows the same kind of pattern. I read this one aloud to the kids too and we thoroughly enjoyed it. A second book in this series, Aru Shah and the Song of Death, was published this year and I’m looking forward to reading it.

Books for Teens:
It’s hard to draw a definitive boundary but the following books are more suited to a secondary-school audience…

Orphan, Monster, Spy
(Orphan Monster Spy #1) by Matt Killeen

This is my favourite teen book of the year. Sarah is a Jewish girl living in Nazi Germany, her mother sacrificed everything to get her out of the country – but instead of running away Sarah fights back against the regime by becoming a spy and going undercover in an elite Nazi boarding school. A thoroughly gripping WW2-based spy thriller, with a super-smart, fiercely brave protagonist – I couldn’t put it down. The sequel, Devil, Darling, Spy is due out in 2020.

by Frances Hardinge

Thirty years ago the gods of the Undersea destroyed each other and now the islanders of the Myriad live on stories of the gods and scavenge ‘godware’ – relics brought up from the seabed. When Hark and his friend Jelt find a relic that seems to have healing powers they are inadvertently sucked into an adventure that endangers their lives and the future of the Myriad. As always, Frances Hardinge’s fantasy world is brimming with life and her characters, delightfully and authentically flawed. Hark and Jelt’s dysfunctional relationship is particularly poignant, as is the inclusion of the ‘sea-kissed’ characters – divers who have lost their hearing due to accidents at sea. I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of this story – brilliantly done.


Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus

A thoroughly engrossing teen murder mystery, perfect for fans of Veronica Mars and Pretty Little Liars. (In fact I imagined the whole story with a geographically-inaccurate grimy, sun-bleached style and a cynical, wisecracking teen-PI narrator.) Twins, Ellery and Ezra are sent to live with their grandmother in Echo Falls when their mother is checked into rehab, but it’s a town with a dark history. Five years earlier the homecoming queen was murdered and her body dumped in ‘Murderland’ – the local horror-based theme park. And there’s a dark event in Ellery and Ezra’s own family history too. The action starts up immediately – there’s a hit-and-run on the night they arrive in town, soon someone starts posting anonymous threats aimed at the next homecoming queen, and when a girl disappears it starts to look like history will repeat itself. True-crime obsessed Ellery must team up with Malcolm, brother of the prime suspect from the previous case, to unravel the mystery. I enjoyed One of Us if Lying but I found this book to be more atmospheric and more unpredictable – I loved it and couldn’t put it down.

The Vanishing Stair
(Truly Devious #2) by Maureen Johnson

Thoroughly enjoyed the first two books in this series. True-crime aficionado Stevie Bell is accepted into the prestigious Ellingham Academy, scene of a notorious unsolved case from the 1930s. Stevie is determined to solve the cold case but there’s a mystery afoot in the present as well. Book 1 ends with a murder and a fiendish cliffhanger so I downloaded book 2 immediately. Stevie has been pulled out of school, for her own safety, but she’ll do anything to get back there to be with her friends and continue her investigation. The final book in the trilogy is due out in January 2020.

Jemima Small Versus the Universe
by Tamsin Winter

From the award-winning author of Being Miss Nobody, Jemima Small Versus the Universe is a wonderfully life-affirming story about learning to love yourself. Jemima Small just wants to be like other girls. She hates being forced to join the school health group, AKA Fat Club, and that she can’t apply for her favourite TV show without worrying everyone will laugh at her. But perhaps Jemima can do more than just stand out, perhaps it’s her time to shine. A funny, moving story about bullying, body confidence and learning how to be happy with who you are. All hail the new Judy Blume!

The Gifted, the Talented and Me
by William Sutcliffe

When Sam’s family come into some money unexpectedly, they move from Stevenage to Hampstead in London, and Sam and his brother and sister are enrolled in a special arts school for the gifted and talented. This suits Sam’s siblings just fine but Sam doesn’t feel particularly gifted or talented, he just wants to be normal, play football and hang out with his mates. But football is taboo at his new school. Sam is a wonderfully relatable character and there are some great laugh-out-loud moments, I thoroughly enjoyed this story of trying to fit in when fitting in means standing out.

The Deathless Girls
by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

An evocative, gothic story of the Brides of Dracula. Lil and her twin sister Kizzy are travellers who are captured and enslaved by a local Boyar but this is just the beginning of their journey. Will Lil and Kizzy have the courage to do what it takes to survive. This is no Twilight, it is a lyrical,  beautifully imagined alternative version of a classic story, perfect for anyone who loved Louise O’Neill’s The Surface Breaks. Highly recommended.


Heartstopper: Volume Two (Heartstopper #2) by Alice Oseman

Based on a popular webcomic series, Heartstopper is an LGBTQ+ graphic novel and this is the second volume in the series. Charlie has had a rough year, he came out and was bullied but he has good friends and he hopes that things might be looking up. When he meets Nick he starts falling for him, but he’s sure Nick is straight and that he won’t have a chance. But love works in surprising ways, and sometimes good things are waiting just around the corner. Heartstopper is about friendship, loyalty and mental illness. This is a very sweet, heartwarming story, perfect for fans of Love, Simon.

On the Come Up
by Angie Thomas

I’m sure you will have heard of Angie Thomas’ breakout hit The Hate U Give. On the Come Up is her second novel, it is not a sequel but is set in the same neighbourhood as her first book. Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be a rapper to fulfil her father’s legacy, but also to save her family from poverty. The Hate U Give was always going to be a tough act to follow but Angie Thomas has risen to the challenge – On the Come Up has many of the same elements that made THUG so successful but it surpasses it in depth and nuance. Bri is a grittier, more complex character than Starr and her compelling rap lyrics add an extra layer. It’s also a thoroughly gripping story. I loved it and was privileged to hear Angie Thomas perform Bri’s battle rap at the Southbank Centre earlier this year.

Best Fantasy 2019


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I’ve read a lot of fantasy in 2019. It’s been that kind of year. Here are some of my favourites:

Darkdawn (The Nevernight Chronicle #3) by Jay Kristoff

The Nevernight Chronicles was my favourite fantasy series of the year and Darkdawn was a perfect ending. It was funnier, bloodier and even more ambitious than the other two books. It’s difficult to review this book without spoilers but needless to say: the identity of the loquacious, hyperbolic narrator is revealed, the full story of the clash between gods that created the fundamental imbalance of Mia’s world is explained as well as the origin of the Darkins, and Mia realises the role she has to play in restoring balance. And just for fun: the author takes the piss out of his own prose, there is an excruciatingly awkward dinner on a pirate ship and there are some great new characters, including Mia’s snarky little brother and a pirate called Cloud. I know some have taken issue with the ending but I thought it was perfectly satisfying and very moving. Thoroughly enjoyed this series.

Kingdom of Ash (Throne of Glass #7) by Sarah J. Maas

I started 2019 by rereading all of the Throne of Glass books in preparation for the final instalment, Kingdom of Ash. (Including the prequel novellas – very important!) So I started the final book thoroughly absorbed in the world and caught up on all the obscure side characters who might be likely to reappear unexpectedly and play a starring role. As they do…
Kingdom of Ash itself reminded me a lot of The Lord of the Rings – it had a lot of Tolkienesque aspects, from evil objects of power and giant spiders to deus-ex-machina battle turnarounds, unlikely heroes and lost monarchs. There were a couple of moments in this book where I wanted to strangle Aelin – where her actions seemed to be in service to the unfolding of the plot rather than in character, but altogether a coherent and satisfying end to the series. I loved the fact that Aelin didn’t just fry all her enemies with her fire magic in the end, but the resolution depended on the contributions of all the other characters – the women in particular.
What an ambitious, epic adventure – brilliant world-building, complex, interesting characters and heart-stopping action. Highly recommended.

The True Queen (Sorcerer Royal #2) by Zen Cho

The Sorcerer Royal series earns points with me for being set in Regency England in the vein of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, which I loved. In the second book, sisters Muna and Satki wake up on the shores of Janda Baik with no recollection of who they are or where they come from. They set out for London via the Fairy Realm to see if the Sorceress Royal can help them to banish the curse that has stolen their memories, but Satki disappears en route and Muna must brave London society alone while plotting to rescue her sister from the Queen of the Fairies. I loved the first book and was really looking forward to returning to this world. I’m not sure I liked this one quite as much as The Sorcerer to the Crown, but it’s certainly an enjoyable and unpredictable adventure with some brilliant world-building. I hope there are more adventures to follow.

Fire and Blood: A History of the Targaryen Kings from Aegon the Conqueror to Aegon III (A Targaryen History #1) by George R.R. Martin

I started reading with some trepidation as this is an extremely weighty tome (I bought the hardback – for the pictures) but I was soon swept away by the triumphs and tragedies of the Targaryen dynasty. If Game of Thrones is the War of the Roses then surely the Targaryens must be the Roman Empire – I was also reminded of the convoluted machinations of Robert Graves’s I, Claudius. The scope is epic and cast of characters is overwhelmingly numerous but George RR Martin is brilliant at painting a vivid, detailed image with just a few lines while maintaining the context of the bigger picture throughout the book. An impressive achievement, and it’s only the first half. I think the pilot has been picked up for a television series as well, so that’s one more thing for George RR to finish before he gets around to The Winds of Winter!

Bloodchild (The Godblind Trilogy #3) by Anna Stephens

I don’t think I’ve come across the genre ‘grimdark’ before, but this series gleefully fulfils this description. Anna Stephens tosses you into a disorientating world of multiple narrators, fast-paced action, warring gods and vivid, visceral violence, but the narrative is fiercely compelling. In this final book, Rilporin has fallen but so has the god of the conquering Mireces, the Dark Lady. But there is a prophecy that a baby will be born who can return the Dark Lady from death. The Rilporians must find a way to stop this while they prepare for a final battle. A suitably bloodthirsty and harrowing end to a great series. I did have a little weep at the loss of some of my favourite characters, but all in all a satisfying conclusion. I needed to read some light-hearted romantic fiction afterwards to recover…

Ninth House (Alex Stern #1) by Leigh Bardugo

A story of murder, ghosts and secret societies at Yale. Alex Stern never fitted it at school, no one one believed her when she was attacked by things that no one else could see. When Alex is the sole survivor of a horrific massacre, she is given the opportunity to attend Yale, bastion of wealth and privilege, another place where Alex definitely doesn’t fit in. But when her mentor goes missing under mysterious circumstances and a woman has been murdered, Alex’s special gifts might mean that she is the only one who can trace those responsible and bring them to justice. A gripping, atmospheric supernatural murder mystery with a damaged, complex narrator. Hoping there will be a sequel soon…

The Toll (Arc of a Scythe #3) by Neal Shusterman

In the blurb this series sounds like another tedious Hunger Games wannabe, but it is so much more than that. In a ‘utopian’ future, the world is run by a benevolent AI called the Thunderhead, who administrates every aspect of life with perfect fairness, apart from one thing – death. With no hunger, disease, and quick resuscitation from accidental death provided by the Thunderhead – population control is a problem. Death is administrated by an order of ‘Scythes’ who cull the population supposedly impartially and randomly. Of course this system is open to exploitation and corruption but the Thunderhead is compelled never to interfere in scythe affairs. It is the most chilling and disturbing dystopian series I’ve read in a long time, but also completely gripping, weirdly enjoyable and it raises some fascinating philosophical questions. The Toll is a pitch-perfect ending to each character’s storyline and to a thought-provoking, moving & brilliantly orchestrated series.

The Queen of Nothing (The Folk of the Air #3) by Holly Black

The Folk of the Air is a deliciously dark series that begins with the protagonist’s parents being brutally murdered, following which Jude is adopted by the murderer and taken away to Faerie with her sisters. This pretty much sets the tone for the the rest of the series. Jude is human and grows up despised and disparaged by the fae, in particular Prince Cardan, the younger son of the King. But this only makes Jude more determined to prove herself and find a role for herself in the faerie court. Her political machinations triumph at the end of book two but then Cardan banishes her back to the human world and the final book starts with Jude, miserable in exile – desperate to get back to the faerie world she loves and hates in equal measure. The final book resolves Jude’s role in faerie, her relationship with Cardan, and provides appropriate comeuppance for her murderous stepfather. A very satisfying ending to a brilliantly compelling and imaginative series.

The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones

A rare standalone fantasy novel. Ryn is a gravedigger in the remote village of Colbren, which sits at the foot of a sinister forested mountain range, once home to the fae and now home to the ‘Bone Houses’, a plague of reanimated corpses. Since the death of their parents, Ryn and her siblings have struggled to survive, but everything gets much worse when the bone houses suddenly leave the forest and start to attack the village. Ren joins up with Ellis, an apprentice map-maker, to journey into the mountains to find a way to break the curse that has brought the bone-houses to life, and perhaps they can also solve the mystery of Ellis’s origins. I thoroughly enjoyed this dark gothic tale: Welsh myths, a peculiar goat, romance and kickass zombie-slaying – what’s not to like?

Call Down the Hawk (Dreamer Trilogy #1) by Maggie Stiefvater

It took me several tries to get into Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle books but once I’d been sucked in, I couldn’t tear myself away from the bizarre, dreamlike world of Blue, Gansey, Ronan and Adam. Call Down the Hawk is the start of another series featuring Ronan and his brothers, focusing on Dreamers and the mysterious group who are intent on killing them all. It took me a while to get into this new cast of characters (and in fact I’d just got invested in the story when it ended) but it has the same intensely compelling, surreal quality and vivid characterisation of the Raven Cycle.

I would also include the following books that I wrote about in a previous post:
The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon
The Kingdom of Copper (The Daevabad Trilogy #2) by S.A. Chakraborty
The Winter of the Witch (Winternight Trilogy #3) by Katherine Arden

Deeplight by Frances Hardinge


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44647479._SY475_For the third meeting of The Book Fanatics (Mwah Ha Ha Ha Ha) Year 8 Book Club the group voted for Deeplight by Frances Hardinge, and were entirely mature about the illustrations of the Hidden Lady’s boobs in the endpapers.

What follows are the unfathomable inklings of Ernest, Ermentrude, Garfield, Gloria and Oggy. (Real Year 8 pupils, not their real names.)

Book: Deeplight by Frances Hardinge

Genre: Fantasy

Describe this book in three words:
Ernest: tense, confusing, long
Ermentrude: very long, good
Garfield: tense, magical, confusing
Gloria: confusing, confusing, confusing
Oggy: deep, light, confusing

If this book was an animal, what kind of animal would it be?
A lionfish, a Nemo-fish, a kraken, a blobfish, a jellyfish

If this book was a colour, what colour would it be?
Blue or black

Main character/characters & their Hogwarts Houses:
Hark: Gryffindor
Jelt: Slytherin

Which character would you most like to be friends with?
Ernest: Selphin
Ermentrude: Jelt
Garfield: Hark
Gloria: The sea
Oggy: Dr Vine or the gods

What decision would you have made differently from the main character?
Ernest and Oggy wouldn’t have saved Jelt, Ermentrude would’ve married Jelt, Garfield would’ve destroyed the heart.

Who would you cast in a movie version of this book?
As usual, Ermentrude would’ve cast herself.

What did you enjoy the most about this book?
Ernest enjoyed the suspense, Ermentrude liked Jelt, Garfield liked the mystery and Oggy liked the gods.

Have you read any other books you could recommend to someone who likes this book:
The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge, The Surface Breaks by Louise O’Neill

Give the book a star rating out of five:
An average of 4½ stars.

Favourite Books 2019


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The temptation is to make this list longer and longer each year, but to avoid this I have excluded all of the books previously mentioned in my Summer Reading Recommendations and I will do a separate list for fantasy books and children’s books. Without further ado…

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

This is my favourite book of the year. One dark night on the Thames, a group of pub regulars are exchanging stories when the door bursts open to reveal an injured stranger carrying the body of a drowned girl. An hour later the girl takes a breath and comes back to life. How did she survive? Who is she? And what are the circumstances that led up to this night?

Once upon a River is an absolutely enchanting and lyrical novel full of folklore, mystery, love and science, set on the Thames in Victorian England. I loved every minute of this book!

Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver

Maud lives with her horrible, repressive misogynistic father on the edge of the fens. When he accidentally discovers a medieval panel portraying the devil it triggers the memory of a guilty secret he’s kept buried since childhood and it slowly starts to eat away at him. Maud reads his diary and tries to protect the fen and the people she loves from her father’s increasing suspicion and hostility.

This book was everything I hoped it would be, a sinister and atmospheric gothic tale of murder and superstition. Brilliantly done. (Plus – what a beautiful cover design!)

To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers

Could Becky Chambers write anything I wouldn’t love? Not likely. I was excited to hear she had a new book coming out, less so to hear it was just a novella, but To Be Taught, If Fortunate is such a perfectly polished gem of a book that I can’t criticise it for its length. It it encapsulates the spirit of space exploration but also muses on the ethics of space exploration – a fascinating thought in light of the damage that colonialism has done to earth. And that is what I love most about Becky Chamber’s fiction – in her universe the future is a hopeful place where, though we have suffered the consequences of our own self-destructive tendencies, we have also actually learned something from our mistakes. Imagine that?

The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker

New York, 1899. Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by dark Kabbalistic magic. When her master dies she must find her own way to live. Ahmad the djinni has been trapped in an old copper flask for centuries but when he is accidentally released he must find a way to free himself once and for all. The golem and djinni become unlikely friends, until their pasts catch up with them and they face a threat that could destroy them both.

I loved this book, an inventive, atmospheric story about two fascinating characters. Brilliantly done.

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

Queenie is a 25-year-old journalist, ‘on a break’ from her longterm boyfriend, Tom, and struggling to adjust to life without him. She’s not performing at work, she has a series of terrible dates with men who see her as an object not a person, her Jamaican grandparents don’t understand her, and she starts to feel like everything is falling apart.

Reading Queenie felt a lot like watching the first season of Fleabag: at first Queenie’s self-destructive behaviour is difficult to read and hard to comprehend, but the story is darker and more complex than it first appears. Queenie is definitely not Bridget Jones. A wonderfully fresh, honest story about family, friendship and mental health.

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

The Testaments is everything I hoped it would be. It answers the questions left hanging at the end of The Handmaid’s Tale but is another thrilling, brilliantly-plotted, and thought-provoking narrative in its own right. It’s one of those books that it is better to read without knowing too much about it in advance, but needless to say – highly recommended. I couldn’t put it down.

Having said that, this is a book for the fans – and in particular it is an alternative sequel for those who didn’t have a strong enough stomach for The Handmaid’s Tale TV series. (I couldn’t watch much beyond series 1.) Should it have won the Booker? Personally, I think Margaret Atwood deserves a prize for everything she writes, but in this case perhaps I would’ve given it Bernadine Evaristo alone…

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

And speaking of…
Bookended by the launch of a play at the National Theatre, Girl, Woman, Other tells the lives of twelve characters (primarily black British women), in twelve interconnected stories.

I loved this book. Each character is so vividly captured, in their own story and in the glimpses we catch of them though the other characters’ eyes – a thoroughly impressive feat of voice and characterisation. Girl, Woman, Other is technically brilliant, but is also an incredibly captivating and moving book.

The Familiars by Stacey Halls

Set in 1612 and based on real historical characters, The Familiars deals with the Pendle Hill Witch Trials. Fleetwood Shuttleworth has had several miscarriages and fears that her latest pregnancy may end in her own death as well as her child, until she meets a midwife who promises to save her life and that of her unborn child. A power-hungry local magistrate, however, is on the hunt for witches, and in 1612 it only takes being a woman in the wrong place at the wrong time to be accused of witchcraft. Fleetwood must find a way to save her midwife Alice from being hanged without being accused herself.

I thoroughly enjoyed this gripping, evocative tale.


The Wych Elm by Tana French

Toby has always felt lucky, until the day he is robbed and suffers a traumatic head injury that leaves him a broken shadow of the person he once was. Then his uncle gets cancer and the discovery of the body in the wych elm at the bottom of the garden makes him question everything he ever thought about his family and himself.

This wasn’t quite the page-turning thriller I was expecting, so it took a little while to get into it but definitely worth reading – a slow-burn literary mystery with lots of introspection and complicated family dynamics. It is not a cheerful or a comfortable read but it is beautifully written, complex and thought-provoking.

Bone China by Laura Purcell

Hester Why hopes a new name and new job will be a fresh start and an end to her bad luck, but her new situation brings superstition, fear and lots of sinister bone china.

Another deliciously creepy, gothic page turner from Laura Purcell. I think The Corset is still my favourite of her books so far, but Bone China is a close second. (Side note: I’d never thought about why it’s called bone china. Eeeeuw!)

The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken


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41W2E5tmYZL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_For the second meeting of The Book Fanatics (Mwah Ha Ha Ha Ha) Year 8 Book Club the group voted to re-read a book most of them had already read and enjoyed, The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken. (Which suggests that, while publishers may be tired of dystopian fiction, teenagers clearly aren’t.)

What follows are the lyrical waxings of Ernest, Ermentrude, Garfield, Gloria, Karen, Mudge and Oggy. (Real Year 8 pupils, not their real names.)

Book: The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken

Genre: Dystopian

Describe this book in three words:
Ernest: heart-racing, adventurous, dystopian
Ermentrude: longer than DeathlessGirls
Garfield: adventurous, irritating, dystopian
Gloria: torturing children! cool!
Karen: colourful, children, death
Mudge: children, powers, colours
Oggy: fun, dystopian, thriller

If this book was an animal, what kind of animal would it be?
A jaguar, a rainbow unicorn, a raven, a peacock, a black panther

If this book was a colour, what colour would it be?
Orange of course, black, red

Main character/characters & their Hogwarts Houses:
Ruby: Gryffindor
Liam: Hufflepuff
Chubs: Ravenclaw
Zu: Hufflepuff
Clancy: Slytherin

Which character would you most like to be friends with?
Ernest: Liam
Ermentrude: Chubs
Garfield: Liam
Gloria: Zu
Karen: Zu, Ruby, Liam or Chubs
Mudge: Zu
Oggy: Zu and Chubs

What decision would you have made differently from the main character?
Ernest and Karen would’ve told their friends they were orange, Ermentrude would’ve kept her head low or avoided being born at all, Garfield and Oggy would’ve kissed Liam and not made him forget, Gloria would’ve run.

Who would you cast in a movie version of this book?
Ermentrude would’ve once again cast herself as all the characters in a one-woman-show.

What did you enjoy the most about this book?
Ermentrude liked Chubs the best, Garfield liked the dystopian theme, Gloria liked it when Sam’s mind got wiped, Karen enjoyed all the detail, Mudge liked the characters, and Oggy liked the friendships and the adventure.

Have you read any other books you could recommend to someone who likes this book:
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Legend by Marie Lu, Divergent by Veronica Roth, Never Fade and In the Afterlightby Alexandra Bracken.

Give the book a star rating out of five:
An average of 5 stars.

The Deathless Girls by Kiran Millwood Hargrave


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43453718._SY475_For the first meeting of The Book Fanatics (Mwah Ha Ha Ha Ha) Year 8 Book Club we decided to read The Deathless Girls by Kiran Millwood Hargrave.

What follows are the erudite musings of Ernest, Ermentrude, Garfield, Gloria, Karen, Mudge and Oggy. (Real Year 8 pupils, not their real names.)

Book: The Deathless Girls by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Genre: Fantasy, horror, feminist, adventure, LGBTQ+

Describe this book in three words:
Ermentrude: descriptive, feminist, long
Gloria: weird, confusing, vampirey
Karen: death, vampires, travel
Oggy: feminist, interesting, modern

If this book was an animal, what kind of animal would it be?
A bear or a lion

If this book was a colour, what colour would it be?
Brown, crimson, red and black

Main character/characters & their Hogwarts Houses:
Kizzy – Gryffindor
Lil – Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff

Which character would you most like to be friends with?
Ermentrude: Kizzy
Gloria: Albu the bear
Karen: Albu and the twins
Mudge: Albu the bear
Oggy: Mira

What decision would you have made differently from the main character
Ermentrude would’ve kept her head down and avoided associating with people. Gloria would’ve gone on the run with the bear. Karen, Mudge and Oggy wouldn’t have turned, and Oggy wouldn’t have left Mira.

Who would you cast in a movie version of this book?
Ermentrude would have cast herself in a one-woman show. Karen would’ve cast Zendaya as the twins. Oggy suggested Nina Dobrev for Lil, Victoria Justice for Kizzy and Troian Bellisario for Mira.

What did you enjoy the most about this book?
Ermentrude enjoyed the non-dead peeps, Gloria liked the evil lady, Karen liked the adventure and the unexpected twists, and Oggy liked how feminist and modern it was.

Have you read any other books you could recommend to someone who likes this book:
The Surface Breaks by Louise O’Neill and A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge

Give the book a star rating out of five:
An average of 4 stars.


What to Read This Summer


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Here are twelve new books/series that I’ve read this year and can highly recommend for your holiday reading. I’ve arranged them loosely into categories but most of them don’t conform to just one genre.


Daisy Jones & The Six
by Taylor Jenkins Reid
This book is quintessential summer reading—I’m predicting you’ll see a lot of it on Instagram holiday posts. Daisy Jones and the Six is a band-biopic-style story about the rise and fall of it-girl Daisy Jones and rock band The Six, set in seventies Los Angeles, told in the form of snippets from interviews with the band and those connected to them. It has a cast of characters so believable you’ll want to google them. There’s Daisy herself, a neglected child and drug addict, but also a brilliant songwriter exploited by male artists until she learns to stand up for herself. Billy Dunne, the lead singer, is arrogant, self-centred and locked in a love-hate relationship with Daisy. Camila, his wife, knows what she signed up for and is determined to stick with Billy despite everything. And Karen, the keyboardist, wants to be a professional musician but the men in her life can’t quite get their heads around the fact that she doesn’t want to get married and have children. Daisy Jones & The Six is a wonderfully atmospheric, nostalgic read that captures the fleeting nature of youth and fame, while also being optimistic about the resilience of love. I couldn’t put it down – a thoroughly enjoyable book.

The Heavens
by Sandra Newman
Kate and Ben meet at a party in New York and at first it feel like a quintessential millennial meet-cute, a New York version of Normal People, but then we read that the Green Party is in power, there’s a female president, poverty is in decline and things are looking up for the planet—it seems that Kate and Ben live in a utopian alternate reality. But then we learn that Kate sometimes dreams she has been transported into the dreams of another woman. One day she wakes up in another time and discovers that her actions in the past can change the present, but they could also have disastrous consequences for the future. I love a genre-bending novel and The Heavens is a synthesis of beautiful prose, scalpel-sharp observation and a dreamlike sequence of events that put me in mind of Station Eleven, The Summer of Impossible Things, The Time Traveller’s Wife and Russian Doll. A disorientating and captivating novel.

My Sister, the Serial Killer
by Oyinkan Braithwaite
Shortlisted for the Women’s Prize, this book will inspire anyone to appreciate their own annoying younger sisters. (Just testing to see if they read my blog posts.) Korede is the dutiful, responsible hard-working older sister. Ayoola is the beautiful but spoilt younger sister and favourite child. She is also a psychopath. Korede spends her time clearing up after her sister: helping her dispose of bodies, cover her tracks and hide evidence. Her work as a nurse and her blossoming friendship with an attractive doctor makes the hospital Korede’s oasis away from her demanding sister, but Korede’s loyalty to her sister is tested when Ayoola invades the hospital and sets her sights on the same doctor. I really enjoyed My Sister, the Serial Killer—a scalpel-sharp and darkly humorous portrait of sisterly love.


Into the Water
by Paula Hawkins
The Girl on the Train was the lauded as the new Gone Girl, became a bestseller and received the Hollywood treatment but I found Paula Hawkins’ next novel, Into the Water, a better written and much more interesting book. Jules ignores a phone call from her sister Nel, and now Nel is dead in an apparent suicide, and Jules must return to the town she escaped from and confront her past and her fears. At first glance this book is a thriller but there’s a lot more going on below the surface, from the wonderfully atmospheric setting of ‘The Drowning Pool’ and the complex relationships between Jules, her sister and her niece, to the theme of women being violently silenced by men. Highly recommended.

Red Snow (Tuva Moodyson Mystery #2)
by Will Dean
Will Dean is a British author who writes Scandi-Noir inspired by the terrifying forest on the remote outskirts of Sweden where he lives with his family. (Read Dark Pines – Tuva Moodyson #1 first if you haven’t read it.) Tuva’s return did not disappoint, Will Dean maintains the sinister atmosphere that made the first book so chillingly enticing. Tuva is finishing up her last couple of weeks at the Gavrik Posten before moving south for a better-paid position in a larger town, but there’s a new murderer on the loose, nicknamed ‘The Ferryman’. Tuva digs for the inside scoop on the Ferryman, recklessly endangering herself in the process, while also taking on some freelance research work—interviewing the eccentric and ill-fated Grimberg family who own the local liquorice factory and employ most of the town. Another beautifully written, evocative, intriguing story—I may never feel warm again.


Blood for Blood (Ziba MacKenzie #1)
Nothing to Lose (Ziba MacKenzie #2)
by Victoria Selman
Ziba Mackenzie is a profiler, still coming to terms with her husband’s sudden violent death two years earlier, when she is involved in a horrific rail accident. The same accident incites a notorious serial killer to start a new killing spree and Ziba is called in to profile him and track him down. In Nothing to Lose Ziba finds a lead in her husband’s unsolved murder case and starts to dig deeper into a case of corruption and cover-up that will put her life in danger, while also investigating a new serial killer on the loose whose victims look alarmingly similar to Ziba herself. I thoroughly enjoyed these unpredictably twisty thrillers and I’m looking forward to the next Ziba MacKenzie book.


The Doll Factory
by Elizabeth Macneal
The Doll Factory is the story of Iris, a shop-girl who longs to be an artist, and Silas, a sinister taxidermist and collector. Their fateful meeting leads to Iris being asked to model for one of the Pre-Raphaelite artists, opening doors for her to learn to paint and pursue her own artistic dreams. At the same time Silas becomes obsessed with Iris and begins to plan a different future for her. The Doll Factory definitely falls into the ‘lush historical fiction’ category with books like The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, Victorian London is evoked in wonderfully visceral detail, but it is also a romance, an artistic coming-of-age story and a page-turning thriller. Brilliantly done.

The Corset
by Laura Purcell
I loved Laura Purcell’s first book, The Silent Companions—a super-creepy ghost story, but The Corset is subtler, more sinister and reminded me a lot of Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace. Dorothea Truelove uses her charitable visits to Oakgate Prison as a respectable cover to indulge her true passion, phrenology—the study of personality through the bumps on a human skull, popular in the Victorian era. When Ruth Butterham arrives at the prison Dorothea jumps at the chance to examine the skull of a real murderess to see what she can divine. Ruth confesses to Dorothea an outlandish belief that her stitching and embroidery has the power to kill people. The truth is beautifully unravelled as Ruth tells her tragic story and the final reveal is suitably satisfying. A fiendishly clever book – loved it!

The Binding
by Bridget Collins
The blurb of The Binding made it sound quite similar to The Corset, and it has a similarly beautiful cover design, but though it has a historical feel—this book is set in an alternate past. Emmett Farmer is summoned from the fields of his family farm to become an apprentice to a Bookbinder, but in this world, bookbinding is something more magical and more sinister than the name implies. I don’t want to spoil the plot by giving too much away, suffice it to say this is a captivating adventure and love story, with a hint of magical-realism. Perfect for fans of The Miniaturist.


If you’re looking for your epic fantasy fix now Game of Thrones has finished, here are my suggestions:

The Priory of the Orange Tree
by Samantha Shannon
I’ve had this one on my to-read list since I heard about it, particularly because of its evocative title. And The Priory of the Orange Treeis everything I hope it would be: a richly-detailed world with beautifully imagined histories, genealogies, mythologies and religions, plus complex characters and, of course, dragons. I’m glad I bought the hardback version (even though it’s a gigantic tome) as I frequently needed to flip back to the maps at the front to work out where the action was happening. (Kindle really need to work on a functionality solution for maps.) I particularly love the way Samantha Shannon uses a classic fantasy structure but turns the traditional tropes on their heads, like the conventions of monarchy, for example. (Why isn’t the word ‘Queendom’ used more often?) A thoroughly engrossing world.

The City of Brass (The Daevabad Trilogy #1)
The Kingdom of Copper (The Daevabad Trilogy #2)
by S.A. Chakraborty
The City of Brass is an ambitious fantasy novel set in the magical world of the Djinn. Nahri is a fortune teller and thief living off her wits and her magical healing abilities in Cairo until the day she accidentally summons a Djinn and is swept away (on a magic carpet of course) into a world she knows nothing about. Dara the Djinn takes her to Daevabad, the home of her ancestors, a city simmering with historical tensions between the Djinn and the half-human Shafit people and between the various Djinn tribes. The second narrator, Alizayd, is the second son of the King of Daevabad. A devout Muslim, Ali is concerned with the plight of the Shafit and is secretly funding a political group to aid them. When Nahri arrives in the city, Ali and Nahri are both caught up in the King’s machinations as he tries to maintain peace and hold on to his power in politically turbulent time. The author has created a richly detailed world, some layered, nuanced characters and an interesting plot. The second book, The Kingdom of Copper, is even better. Can’t wait for the final book.

Some of my favourite fantasy series came to an end in 2019, like Sarah J Maas’s epic, Tolkienesque Throne of Glass series. (Definitely worth a read if you’re a big fantasy fan—but warning, there are seven hefty books plus a prequel novella in the series.)

The Winter of the Witch (Winternight Trilogy #3)
by Katherine Arden
The final book in Katherine Arden’s Winternight trilogy was also released this year. (Read The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower first.) The Winter of the Witch picks up exactly where the last book left off. Vasya has defeated the usurper but Moscow is in flames, still vulnerable to attack and its people are looking for a scapegoat. Can Vasya save herself as well as Moscow, and will she finally discover her own place in the world? The final book is everything I hoped it would be. Vasya continues to forge her own way and she defies anyone who attempts to constrain her—even her relationship with Morozko is defined on her terms, rather than his. The trilogy is set in medieval Russia at the moment of unification and it was fascinating to discover that many of the characters are based on real historical figures. Katherine Arden has created a beautifully seamless and lyrical blend of historical fiction and folklore. Unputdownable.

Nine Years, Nine Books


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9781912915057-e1557932493546I have always been a prolific reader, but I started writing fiction nine years ago. We had just moved to the UK, I had two small children and, inspired by the literary atmosphere of London, I enrolled in a BA Creative Writing at Birkbeck.

They say everyone has a book in them, but not everyone has what it takes to make a career out of writing. You need thick skin to cope with a lot of rejection, the confidence to pursue your own creative vision and the humility to accept guidance in shaping your writing. And, like any other career, it takes time to establish yourself. A lot of time.

People often ask me when my book’s getting published and I shrug and try to explain that publication is an extremely long, slow process. It’s easy to feel that I haven’t achieved much in nine years, I call myself a ‘writer’, but until I have a proper book deal, I don’t feel that I can call myself an ‘author’.

But this week I received my copies of Dragons of the Prime, an anthology of children’s dinosaur poetry edited by Richard O’Brien and published by The Emma Press. And I realised, even though I don’t have that elusive book deal just yet, I do have nine physical books on my bookshelf that I have contributed to or edited, and numerous other online publications. Nine books in nine years is not bad, really.


What to Read this Summer


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It’s that time of year again—here’s a list of 14 books I’ve read recently and can highly recommend for your holiday reading.

by Madeline Miller 

This is my favourite book of the year so far, from the author of the beautiful Song of Achilles. Circe is the daughter of a titan and a nymph – she is immortal but lacks the power of her father and the beauty of her mother. But there are other ways to have power. When Circe discovers a talent for witchcraft she transforms a rival into a terrible monster – as a result she is banished to the island of Aiaia. Despite her isolation she encounters some legendary characters of Greek mythology: Daedalus and Icharus, the Minotaur, Jason and the Golden Fleece, and of course, Odysseus. Madeline Miller weaves a wonderfully engrossing, epic tale that has many familiar elements but is also strikingly new – a story of a goddess finding her voice. Brilliant!

I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death
by Maggie O’Farrell

An exquisitely written account of seventeen true ‘brushes with death’. I don’t want to give anything away about the trajectory of the book, except to say that the intention of the stories is not to shock or to horrify, but to affirm life and the joy of living in the face of our (eventual) inevitable death. Powerful and poignant.



The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
by Stuart Turton

I’m trying to imagine the incredibly complicated planning document the author must have created to work out the plot of this book. It has a solid foundation of an Agatha Christie-style closed-house murder mystery that is a clever puzzle in itself – the death of Evelyn Hardcastle, daughter of the house, on the anniversary of her brother’s murder twenty years earlier. But there is so much more layered on top of this – I don’t want to give anything away but imagine a David Lynch story – but with an actual solution. Fiendishly clever and brilliantly imagined.

Annihilation (Southern Reach #1)
by Jeff VanderMeer 

You might recognise this one from the recent Netflix film of the same name starring Natalie Portman. An unnamed biologist joins a surveyor, an anthropologist and a psychologist on the twelfth expedition into a mysterious wasteland called Area X. The previous eleven expeditions have all ended in disaster, including the most recent one that the biologist’s husband was a part of. It took me a while to get into this, the narration is quite frustrating to start with as it weirdly stilted and seems to conceal more than it reveals but as the biologist explores the mysteries of Area X, more of the mysteries of who she is, are revealed. An intensely unsettling and bewildering reading experience but brilliantly imagined, and I enjoyed the other two books in the series as well. The film veers from the plot of the book quite significantly but maintains the same eeriness and vibrant sense of menace, so it is worth watching, after you’ve read the book of course.

by Andrew Sean Greer

Less is the kind of book that grows on you, as did the main character, American author – Arthur Less. At first, he seems rather pathetic. He’s not been successful professionally: the critics called him a ‘magniloquent spoony’, his books have never become bestsellers and his publishers have just declined his latest novel. His long-time boyfriend is about to marry someone else so, to avoid having to go to the wedding, he accepts a series of random invitations and embarks on a round-the-world trip. It’s a slapstick setup, but as Less travels and we learn more about the history of his relationships, it transforms into a poignant tale, and Less himself becomes something of a romantic hero. A funny, moving and uplifting love story.

by Yaa Gyasi

The story of two sisters living on the Gold Coast of Africa whose lives follow very different routes. Esi is sold into slavery and shipped to America in horrific conditions, her descendants must slowly claw their way out of captivity and poverty to freedom. ‘Effia the Beauty’ marries a slave trader and her descendants are inescapably complicit in the slave trade. It’s an incredibly epic and ambitious story and you only get one chapter from each character as the book tracks the generations that follow the two sisters. But somehow, even in one chapter, the author creates characters that feel real and authentic, and each story is engaging and deeply moving. A powerful and compelling book.

I Still Dream
by James Smythe

1997: 17-year-old Laura Bow develops a basic artificial intelligence that she uses to talk to about her life. She calls it Organon. From then the story checks in with Laura every decade as the world changes and Organon develops. Laura protects Organon and her own privacy fiercely but when society is threatened by other artificial intelligences, not as responsibly and sensitively nurtured, Laura must decide whether to release Organon to the world. Without spoiling it, I loved the cyclical nature of the ending and found it incredibly moving. A brilliant and thought-provoking book.

Rules of Civility
by Amor Towles

I loved this even more than A Gentleman in Moscow. New York, New Year’s Eve 1937: Katey Kontent and her friend Evelyn are in a jazz bar when they meet Tinker Grey, a chance encounter that will have dramatic repercussions for all of them. The story follows Katey, in particular, for the next few years as she negotiates her career, friendships and relationships. Katey is an endlessly fascinating narrator she’s intelligent, independent, self-aware, ambitious but also pragmatic. Despite the limitations of her own working-class background and other circumstances working against her, she claims her own agency and her right to self-determination over and over again. It’s a book about feminism, class and privilege – wrapped a beautifully stylish tribute to jazz-age New York City. Utterly captivating.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies
by John Boyne 

Ireland, 1945: sixteen-year-old Catherine Goggin is denounced as a whore, thrown out by her family and cast out of her village by the local priest when they discover she’s pregnant. She escapes to Dublin and, when she gives birth, a ‘little hunchbacked Redemptorist nun’ arranges for her son to be adopted by a couple who can’t have children of their own. Cyril’s adoptive parents, Maude and Charles, treat him more like a tenant than a son and make it clear to him that he is not a ‘real’ Avery. When Cyril is seven years old he meets Julian Woodbead, his best friend and first love. Thus begins the misadventures of Cyril Avery. Against a backdrop of tumultuous Irish history, including IRA kidnappings and bombings in the 50s and 60s, right up until the marriage equality referendum of 2015, Cyril comes to terms with who he is and manages to find love and family, despite unlikely circumstances and some tragic twists of fate. An epic, angry, hilarious and heart-breaking book – I couldn’t put it down.

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock
by Imogen Hermes Gowar

Following in the footsteps of ‘The Miniaturist’ and ‘The Essex Serpent’, ‘The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock’ sits firmly in the category of lush historical fiction. (I did buy the hardback as the cover design is stunning.) The story is set in Georgian London but explores the lives of characters that are not usually in the spotlight – courtesans, immigrants, people of mixed-race, merchants, and of course, mermaids. Jonah Hancock is a comfortably-established merchant and widower who lives under the thumb of his elder sister until the unexpected arrival of a mermaid disrupts his existence, thrusts him in a world he knew little about and sets up a fateful encounter with Angelica Neal, a high-class courtesan, in search of a new benefactor. An evocative, beautifully-written piece of historical fiction with just a hint of magical realism.

A Closed and Common Orbit (Wayfarers #2)
by Becky Chambers

A Closed and Common Orbit follows directly after the events of The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet but focuses on two different characters – Pepper, who we met briefly in the first book, and the rebooted version of the Wayfarer’s AI, Lovelace, now called ‘Sidra’, in her new illegal body, or ‘kit’ as she refers to it. The chapters alternate between Sidra’s experience adapting to life in a body, and flashbacks to Pepper’s traumatic childhood as a genetically engineered human slave and the story of her escape from her home planet. Becky Chambers, once again, creates a fascinating, richly-detailed universe populated with authentic, believable, diverse characters that you can’t help but fall in love with. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. (And Book 3 is out shortly!)

The Surface Breaks
by Louise O’Neill

Finally, the feminist retelling of ‘The Little Mermaid’ we’ve all been waiting for. I grew up reading the Hans Christian Andersen version of the story which is much darker than the saccharine Disney tale, and The Surface Breaks is based the original but filtered through a contemporary feminist lens – there’s even a sneaky Donald Trump reference in there. It’s a harrowing story, filled with pain and desperation, but the final paragraphs are fiercely triumphant. Brilliantly done. I was torn about whether to let my 11-year-old read it, there are so many important themes but the content is very dark. Of course, after I told her it might be too traumatic for her, she read it immediately and loved it.

A Skinful of Shadows
by Frances Hardinge

I am extremely jealous of Frances Hardinge’s imagination. Makepeace lives with her mother and her mother’s Puritan relatives in the time leading up to the English Civil War. Makepeace is aware that she is different to other people in that she can see and hear ghosts but her mother trains her to drive them away and protect herself from ever being possessed by them. But when tragedy strikes Makepeace is sent to stay with her father’s sinister relatives and in a moment of weakness she allows herself to be possessed by a wild and brutish spirit. But when Makepeace discovers the awful secret her father’s family are hiding then the ghost is the one who protects her and gives her the strength to escape them. A thrilling, wildly imaginative tale and another fascinating protagonist from Frances Hardinge. (And the 11-year-old couldn’t put it down either.) Brilliant!

Home Fire
by Kamila Shamsie

This was already on my list of 17 Best Books of 2017 but I thought I’d give it another mention in light of the fact that it has recently won the Women’s Prize for Fiction and that Kamila Shamsie has proved prescient in her unlikely prediction of a Tory Muslim Home Secretary. Home Fire is a timely, topical and beautifully-written retelling of the Greek myth of Antigone. Fortunately, I didn’t remember the details of the story, so it didn’t ruin the ending for me, though I should have realised, knowing Greek mythology, that (spoiler alert!) it wasn’t going to end well.