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The Huntress: Sky by Sarah Driver

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Seek the scattered Storm-Opals of Sea, Sky and Land, before an enemy finds them and uses them to wield dark power . . .

The trail of the Storm-Opals takes Mouse further than she has ever been before. With her little brother Sparrow and friend Crow alongside her, she stumbles into the world of Sky, where fortresses are hidden amongst the clouds, secret libraries (skybraries) nestle atop gigantic icebergs and the sky swirls with warring tribes and their ferocious flying beasts. Can they solve Da’s message before it’s too late for their ship, their tribe and the whole of Trianukka?

Mouse is back on her quest to find the Storm-Opals and be reunited with her Da.

The second book in The Huntress series begins with Mouse and her friends discovering the legendary Sky-Tribes. It introduces us to some incredible new characters, including my favourite, Kestrel. She’s very different to Mouse and strong in her own unique way- she’s gentle, fiercely loyal and has a vision for the future that she’ll defend to the death.

I was never a fan of books written in the present tense until I read Sea. It works so well in this trilogy and makes me feel fully immersed in the world Sarah has created. This book is non-stop action and we flit between riding ferocious beasts to breaking into fortresses to dream-dancing and sailing through poisonous frog infested waters. Like the first book, it’s full of great cultural expressions related to Mouse’s world and the Sea Tribes, such as ” don’t take your sails down yet” and “have raw eels poisoned your brain?” I love how each community Mouse comes across during this adventure has its own unique qualities and culture.

The novel is full of irresistible new creations such as draggles, the Skybrary where the books belonging to the divided clans are preserved and wish-tea, which tastes of whatever you wish for. Mouse, Crow and Sparrow are fantastic characters, complex and three-dimensional. I feel like they had grown up a lot in their own different ways by the end of this second book and I enjoy following their character development, how they make sense of the world and the quest they must carry out.

Full of twists and shocking reveals, The Huntress: Sky is a magical sequel to The Huntress: Sea and a book for adventurers!

The Huntress: Storm will be released on the 31st of May 2018. Read my review of Sea here.

 

Hortense and the Shadow by Natalia and Lauren O’Hara

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“Through the dark and wolfish woods,
through the white and silent snow,
lived a small girl called Hortense.
Though kind and brave, she was sad as an owl because of one thing . . .
Hortense hated her shadow.”

Hortense and the Shadow is a beautifully illustrated debut picture book written and illustrated by sisters Natalia and Lauren O’Hara. They tell the story of Hortense, a girl who hates her shadow so much that she decides it must go…until she realises just how small she is without it.

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This is a beautiful story of identity and self-acceptance. It shows us just how scary a shadow can be to small children and how they perceive themselves and the world around them. It’s not a rhyming picture book but the lyrical rhythm in which the story is told makes it seem like it is.

As she fell,

Hortense knew

her shadow hated her too.

The illustrations are stunning; whimsical yet very dark in places- a mix of pastel colours and black ink. The story seems to be set in a (perhaps Poland-inspired?) fairyland, with domed palaces and pink trees and ushanka-wearing bandits to be spotted throughout the book.

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Delciously dark but with a happy ending, Hortense and the Shadow is an utterly lovely picture book with an empowering message, and it reads like a classic fairytale.

Hortense and the Shadow will be published on the 5th of October. Thank you to Lucy at Penguin Random House for sending it so beautifully packaged!

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Q&A with Zillah Bethell on ‘The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare’

The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare_COVER ART Copyright Sian Trenberth Photography

I’m pleased to welcome Zillah Bethell to the blog today to talk about her latest children’s book, The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare. You can find out more about Zillah and her books on her website.

Auden Dare has an unusual perspective on life: he cannot see in colour. He’s always had this rare condition – and life is beginning to get harder for Auden. The war for water that is raging across the world is getting a little closer all the time. It hardly rains any more, anywhere. Everyone is thirsty all the time, and grubby, and exhausted. Auden has to learn to live without his father, who is away fighting, and has had to move to a new town with his mother, and start a new school, where everyone thinks he’s a weirdo. But when he meets Vivi Rookmini, a smiling girl bright with cleverness, his hopes begin to lift.
It soon becomes clear to Auden, though, that there are some strange things afoot in his new hometown. He and his mother have moved into the old cottage of his recently-dead uncle Jonah Bloom – a scientist and professor at the university. The place is in disarray – and although Auden’s mother tells him it’s because Jonah was a messy old thing, Auden knows differently. Someone else did this – someone who was looking for something of Jonah’s. Auden had heard too that Jonah was working on something that could cure Auden’s condition – could this be it?
Then Auden and Vivi make an extraordinary discovery. Hidden away under the shed at the bottom of Jonah’s garden is an engimatic and ingenious robot, who calls himself Paragon. A talking, walking, human-like robot. Apparently built by Jonah – but why? The answer to this will take Auden and Vivi on a thrilling journey of discovery as they seek to find out just what exactly Paragon is – and what link he has to Auden – and find that the truth is bigger and more wonderful than either of them could have imagined.

1. Why did you choose to set Auden Dare in a world experiencing crippling water shortages?

Parts of the world are already experiencing water shortages. That is our reality. Water poverty kills 1.5 million children every year; and according to the World Economic Forum, water scarcity is now the number one global risk factor. I thought it would be interesting to bring that reality to the UK. To the Englishman with his umbrella and his rose garden.

2. Auden Dare, the central character in your book, suffers from a condition that means he can only see in black and white. Tell us more about this and how this condition is relevant to the story?

My starting point was the phrase ‘to see everything in black and white’. I guess I wanted to discuss grey areas both literally and metaphorically. I was also influenced by Oliver Sacks’ wonderful studies in achromatopsia. We take colour for granted in much the same way as we take water for granted.

3. In your book, Auden and his friend Vivi discover a robot called Paragon who appears to have human-like emotions. Do you think we will ever see robots that are like people?

It’s hard to imagine a machine with a conscience and a sense of humour. Or a soul. But then again, transplants were once the stuff of Frankenstein; flying, the realm of Icarus. So it is entirely possible that one day we will have truly sentient machines. We already have driverless cars!

4. There have been stories in the media recently about the development of robot soldiers. Given your book looks at the role of robots in future society are you worried about the potential dangers posed by AI?

Only last year in Geneva, the UN discussed the legal and ethical issues surrounding LAWS (Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems). I don’t think we’re in the land of Terminator yet – these weapons systems would be far too costly. But robots may indeed pose a threat to our economy, taking over jobs previously done by humans.

5. In the book, the UK is controlled by the Water Authority Board, a really sinister authoritarian government. What was your inspiration for this?

Having had such a free early childhood I found any kind of authority challenging. On a literary level I’ve been influenced by George Orwell’s 1984; and there have been plenty of real life totalitarian states and leaders from Ceausescu to Kim Jong-Un to be terrified by.

6. You say that having such a free childhood meant you found authority challenging. Did your childhood inspire this book in any other way?

Yes I think it did. I didn’t have any technology in PNG and am both fascinated and appalled by it. Instinctively I don’t like it – I don’t even own a microwave – but rationally I see its enormous potential. I think I wrestle with this in my work – sometimes outlining the dangers of it, sometimes showing the wonders of it.

7. Both of your children’s books feature protagonists who rebel against totalitarian authorities or leaders. Standing up for what’s right is a common theme in children’s literature- do you think children’s books should include any sense of morality or should they be objects of pure escapism and enjoyment?

I think a book should be anything it likes. Escapist literature has its own moral if you like – the desire to be distracted from everyday existence. As TS Eliot said, human beings cannot bear very much reality! I don’t think children appreciate having a ‘worthy’ book foisted upon them though. I was recently given Magic by Danielle Steel (about secret dinners in Paris where everyone has to wear white) and Reunion by Fred Uhlman (about an intense friendship during the rise of Nazism in Germany). I was equally enthralled by both books.

8. You’ve also written three novels for adults. What made you want to write for children and do you find that the writing processes for adult books and children’s books differ?

My editor asked me to write a children’s book so I did! The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare was written to a deadline and I think there is an intensity to it because of that. My adult novels were taken up and left off depending on how busy I was so maybe they go off on a tangent a bit! Otherwise the writing process doesn’t differ much. I write chapters in my head then eventually speak into a very old Dictaphone. (Before I had kids my neighbour commented that I talked to the cats a lot!) Eventually I get to the computer. The good thing about writing in your head is that you can do it in bed!

Thanks so much, Zillah! 

The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare will be published by Piccadilly Press on the 7th of September 2017.

Check out my Twitter to enter my giveaway and win a copy!

Women in Translation Month- 5 Translated Books Written by Women

In honour of Women In Translation Month, here are 5 brilliant translated books written by women. Enjoy!

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The Life of Elves by Muriel Barbery- translated from French by Alison Anderson

The highly anticipated new novel from the acclaimed author of The Elegance of the Hedgehog.

The villagers had never seen anything like it: dense white curtains of snow that instantly transformed the landscape. Not in autumn, not here in Burgundy. And on the same night a baby was discovered, dark-eyed little Maria, who would transform all their lives.

Hundreds of miles away in the mountains of Abruzzo, another foundling, Clara, astonishes everyone with her extraordinary talent for piano-playing. But her gifts go far beyond simple musicianship.

As a time of great danger looms, though the girls know nothing of each other, it is the bond that unites them and others like them, which will ultimately offer the only chance for good to prevail in the world.

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The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Sanmartín Fenollera- translated from Spanish by Sonia Soto

In this #1 international bestseller, a young woman leaves everything behind to work as a librarian in a remote French village, where she finds her outlook on life and love challenged in every way.

Prudencia Prim is a young woman of intelligence and achievement, with a deep knowledge of literature and several letters after her name. But when she accepts the post of private librarian in the village of San Ireneo de Arnois, she is unprepared for what she encounters there. Her employer, a book-loving intellectual, is dashing yet contrarian, always ready with a critique of her cherished Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott. The neighbors, too, are capable of charm and eccentricity in equal measure, determined as they are to preserve their singular little community from the modern world outside.

Prudencia hoped for friendship in San Ireneo but she didn’t suspect that she might find love—nor that the course of her new life would run quite so rocky or would offer challenge and heartache as well as joy, discovery, and fireside debate. Set against a backdrop of steaming cups of tea, freshly baked cakes, and lovely company, The Awakening of Miss Prim is a distinctive and delightfully entertaining tale of literature, philosophy, and the search for happiness.

 

61Vo3-LgfGL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Maresi by Maria Turtschaninoff- translated from Finnish by Annie Prime

Maresi came to the Red Abbey when she was thirteen, in the Hunger Winter. Before then, she had only heard rumours of its existence in secret folk tales. In a world where girls aren’t allowed to learn or do as they please, an island inhabited solely by women sounded like a fantasy. But now Maresi is here, and she knows it is real. She is safe.

Then one day Jai tangled fair hair, clothes stiff with dirt, scars on her back arrives on a ship. She has fled to the island to escape terrible danger and unimaginable cruelty. And the men who hurt her will stop at nothing to find her.

Now the women and girls of the Red Abbey must use all their powers and ancient knowledge to combat the forces that wish to destroy them. And Maresi, haunted by her own nightmares, must confront her very deepest, darkest fears. A story of friendship and survival, magic and wonder, beauty and terror, Maresi will grip you and hold you spellbound.

41w778CAyBL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_The Time of Women by Elena Chizhova- translated from Russian by Simon Patterson and Nina Chordas

Life is not easy in the Soviet Union at mid-20th century, especially for a factory worker who becomes an unwed mother. But Antonina is lucky to get a room in a communal apartment that she and her little girl share with three old women. Glikeria is the daughter of former serfs. Ariadna comes from a wealthy family and speaks French. Yevdokia is illiterate and bitter. All have lost their families, all are deeply traditional, and all become “grannies” to little Suzanna. Only they secretly name her Sofia. And just as secretly they impart to her the history of her country as they experienced it: the Revolution, the early days of the Soviet Union, the blockade and starvation of World War II. The little girl responds by drawing beautiful pictures, but she is mute. If the authorities find out she will be taken from her home and sent to an institution. When Antonina falls desperately ill, the grannies are faced with the reality of losing the little girl they love – unless a stepfather can be found before it is too late. And for that, they need a miracle.

194358_1313551In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri – translated from Italian by Ann Goldstein

In Other Words is a revelation. It is at heart a love story of a long and sometimes difficult courtship, and a passion that verges on obsession: that of a writer for another language. For Jhumpa Lahiri, that love was for Italian, which first captivated and capsized her during a trip to Florence after college. Although Lahiri studied Italian for many years afterwards, true mastery had always eluded her.

Seeking full immersion, she decided to move to Rome with her family, for ‘a trial by fire, a sort of baptism’ into a new language and world. There, she began to read and to write – initially in her journal – solely in Italian. In Other Words, an autobiographical work written in Italian, investigates the process of learning to express oneself in another language, and describes the journey of a writer seeking a new voice.

Presented in a dual-language format, this is a wholly original book about exile, linguistic and otherwise, written with an intensity and clarity not seen since Vladimir Nabokov: a startling act of self-reflection and a provocative exploration of belonging and reinvention.

Letters From The Lighthouse by Emma Carroll

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We weren’t supposed to be going to the pictures that night. We weren’t even meant to be outside, not in a blackout, and definitely not when German bombs had been falling on London all month like pennies from a jar.

February, 1941. After months of bombing raids in London, twelve-year-old Olive Bradshaw and her little brother Cliff are evacuated to the Devon coast. The only person with two spare beds is Mr Ephraim, the local lighthouse keeper. But he’s not used to company and he certainly doesn’t want any evacuees.

Desperate to be helpful, Olive becomes his post-girl, carrying secret messages (as she likes to think of the letters) to the villagers. But Olive has a secret of her own. Her older sister Sukie went missing in an air raid, and she’s desperate to discover what happened to her. And then she finds a strange coded note which seems to link Sukie to Devon, and to something dark and impossibly dangerous.

After being caught in an air-raid and the disappearance of their elder sister, Olive and Cliff are evacuated to Devon, where they are sent to stay with a strange lighthouse keeper. The villagers are full of secrets, and Olive is determined to uncover them.

This middle-grade novel slowly unravels an intricate mystery and captures the tragedy of the refugee crisis, both back during WWII and in the present day. Its variety of characters has you constantly wondering who knows what- Ephraim, the discrete lighthouse keeper and his secret control room, sharp-tongued Queenie, fierce evacuee Esther, with whom Olive just cannot get on, and Sukie, Olive’s wild older sister who’s nowhere to be found. I especially loved the characterisation of Olive and Esther and their precarious relationship. They were easy to imagine- Olive, grieving for her father, sensible and determined to protect Cliff; Esther, whose anger seems to be hiding sadness and vulnerability. Equally beautiful was the love between Olive and her brother.

Wartime descriptions and period sayings like “the cat’s pyjamas” made the setting authentic. Each chapter was headed with a slogan from WWII, which I thought was a nice touch. The overall message is that love and compassion beat hatred and bigotry, and the world is as much in need of this message today as it was back in Hitler’s era.

“There were thirty-two refugees in total: thirty-two wet, frightened, exhausted people, who’d travelled through a storm in a sailing boat meant to hold ten. How awful their lives back home must’ve been to take such a risk.”

I did find the plot a little confusing at some points, and had to go back and check I’d got it right. Despite this, it moves at a gentle pace (not a bad thing), is full of moving scenes and reads like a classic. A timeless piece of historical fiction for children.

I don’t think a book could contain a more important message than the one spoken by Letters from the Lighthouse , and it’s weaved beautifully throughout the novel. It links current events to past tragedies and is a warning to us all to not let history repeat itself. Your children need to read it.