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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The Good Neighbour by Beth Miller

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Although The Good Neigbour is not the sort of genre I usually read, I thought I’d give it a go, and I’m glad I did.

Minette is a new mother whose neighbour Cath and her two children have just moved in next door. Cath and Minette become firm friends, and Cath seems like the perfect mother, handling a handicapped son and young daughter while particpating in the triathlon for charity and being on the run from an abusive husband. Cath is reluctant to speak about her past, and Minette puts it down to painful memories. But when she witnesses something she shouldn’t, she finds herself having to choose between her friend and her own conscience.

This book was gripping, with a fast paced plot line and authentic characters. It’s easy to read but keeps you on your toes, with several plot twists that slowly reveal a shocking secret.

The novel is told from three points of view: Minette, Cath, and Cath’s son Davey. This was intelligently done because it allowed me relate with all the characters and get into their heads, experiencing their inner battles with them. Even villains are the heroes of their own stories, and although some of the characters in this book are not always “the good guys”, it was interesting to know the motivations and decisions behind their actions.

Those who read my reviews know that I enjoy writing that is poetic, with long, flowery descriptions. Beth’s writing isn’t like this, but it is clear, straight-forward and to the point, which is exactly what is needed for such a fast moving plot line.

The Good Neighbour is a real page turner and I would recommend.