Monday, 23 February 2015

A week of reading!

February half term is never my favourite time of year, grey, wet and cold it was this year enhanced by some wonderfully sunny days but more so by a lovely big pile of new children’s books.  Some of the books I have had the pleasure of reading are not to be published for a couple of months yet – one of the benefits of being part of the industry – being able to read in advance.  However I will tell you about them nonetheless as you can then add them to your wants list!

Despite the apparently large selection I am about to share with you here there are still more on my pile and I will find time to get to them all so if, publishers and authors, you are reading this, I will get to your books very soon!

I am regularly asked if I have a favourite author or indeed book and I can honestly say I don’t, not for children’s or for adult literature.  I have favourites whose books I love to return to or make a point of reading when a new one comes out but one single favourite is impossible to choose and so it is with this selection here, there were some I loved but I enjoyed them all.

Starting with books for teens, the ones I have quite literally just read Ann Brashares The Here and Now (Hachette Children’s) is an exciting and quite different time travel romance, it is at once entirely believable and also wonderfully futuristic.  I found myself willing Prenna to make everything right, to fall in love and for it to work for her, she is a brilliant heroine, strong, clever, and feisty, someone to look up to.  Prenna must live by a set of rules in a community driven by fear.  She knows that there is always a second chance.  She knows that there is more-than-meets-the-eye taking place.  A gripping thrilling romantic story this book had me gripped and I know it will you too.

Another thriller, this one contemporary and equally believable is A J Grainer’s Captive (Simon & Schuster).  Robyn Elizabeth Knoylls-Green is 16, the daughter of the prime minister and survivor of an assassination attempt.  This makes her an A-List celebrity and a target.  Kidnapped by a mysterious game, caught in a web of deceit and corruption Robyn must keep reminding herself of the most basic facts including that she is still alive.  But who is the mysterious and melancholy boy in charge of guarding her?  Can she find a way in and a way out, can she unravel the deceit in time?  This is a most intelligent thriller, one which makes you feel you know where it is going only to surprise you again!

The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle (Penguin Random House) may not be published until July but it is a debut not to be missed. This MUST go on your to-buy list.  Whilst I worked out the twist quite early on there were strands to be followed and understood that kept me reading and meant I got through it all in one sitting!  Intelligent, dark and bewitching this is the story of one family and the mysterious curse that hangs over them.

Now to books for Junior readers and I will start with a sequel, one that I hope is only the second in a new series.  I thought that A Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens (Penguin Random House) was rather like a cross between Famous Five and Agatha Christie!  Arsenic for Tea is the second Wells and Wong Mystery and is equally fun and intriguing  Schoolgirl detectives on the case of a mysterious poisoning, can they solve the mystery before another victim succumbs?  Wonderful fun.

Cathy Cassidy is an author with a strong and loyal following.  Alice in Wonderland is a classic title.  Put the two together and Looking Glass Girl by Cathy Cassidy (Puffin Books) is the modern day Alice, a girl who falls down a hole and finds herself.  A growing-up fantasy with echoes of realism, this is a perfect modern retelling.

A Whisper of Wolves by Kris Humphrey (Stripes) has echoes of Michelle Paver’s Wolf Boy but is a unique story of one girl, her power to understand wolves and the danger she faces when it appears no-one will believe the demons have returned.  This is the first of four stories in a new series of adventure, fantasy and war, family and courage.

On the subject of courage I come to the new novel by Lucy Coats.  Known for her stories of ancient myth this one is no exception.  A young Queen Cleopatra is the heroine of Cleo (Hachette) and with all the glamour of Ancient Egypt, the glory, the wealth and the power we learn of her struggle against monstrous half-sisters and blood-thirsty gods.  A gripping and exciting read.

Well that is it for my half term reading but I would love to know about yours!

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Enter Wonderland

Well I was going to continue the new tradition started in January and write about new books for the month, then it was going to be Valentines read but then a lovely pile of Alice in Wonderland books arrive on my desk so I must tell you about these instead!

2015 is the 150th anniversary of the publication of the book and fans old and new are in for a treat.

But first for some history.  It was 1863 when Charles L. Doodgson met Alexander Macmillan, Macmillan fell in love with Alice and agreed to publish the story.  From 1865 to 1900 there were no less than 9 editions of Alice including revised English editions, French, German and Italian translations too!  The two men continued to be friends too.  Now, 150 years later Macmillan are still publishing Alice.  What you may not know is that Alice was commissioned by them, her iconic blue dress, blond hair and band came from them.

For a very special anniversary comes a very special selection of books, from heritage collectible editions to newly imagined works there is a whole new range featuring something, quite literally, for everyone.

You may know that Alice was inspired by a real life friend of the author and took two and half years to write the story but did you know that it is now one of the most iconic of children's books?

There is Alice In Wonderland the Little Folks edition with its big print and glorious illustrations this is a real treat, a miniature edition, a sixth of the length of the original but every bit as charming if not more.  Sir John Tenniel's colour illustrations, all 32, are a delight and bring the story to life and this book feels extra special because it is from an archive original.  John Tenniel's drawings were originally black and white plates later replaced with colour drawings but by 1911 his eyesight was failing and Macmillan commissioned Harry G. Theaker to complete 16 new plates, these gave Alice her iconic look.  Over the years other illustrators have added to the collection of images creating a wonderful library of prints.

The Little Folks edition is complemented by the equally gorgeous The Nursery Alice which was first published by Macmillan in 1890 and was the first colour edition specially adapted for younger readers,a delightfully simple version of the story for the reader to interact with and pictures to truly engage with, another delight complete with copies of original adverts found int he first book. Enchanting and delightful.

The new paperback Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is a charming read, as ever, for those old enough to manage a full book and then for the very youngest reader, not wanting to leave anyone out, Macmillan have produced a very special picture book complete with audio CD which is read by one of the Downton Abbey stars!

Alice in Wonderland Down the Rabbit Hole has the essence of the story simplified into picture book form by Joe Rhatigan and Charles Nurnberg with illustrations by Eric Puybaret.

This is a magical story, a magical version of an enduring classic and another fabulous title from the 150th anniversary collection that would do well to be added to the shelf.  For the very smallest reader the Macmillan imprint Campbell books will include Alice in their Busy series with tabs to pull making Wonderland come to life for its readers.

Anyone wanting to know more about Charles L Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll will not be disappointed either for there will be two titles The Selected Letters of Lewis Carroll: Anniversary Edition is wonderful for enthusiasts and for biography fans a biography by Morton N. Cohen will tick the box.

Need a small gift for family and friends?  Look no further than What Would Alice Do?: Alice's Guide to Life with inspired quotes.

Alice day, Sunday 4th July will be a day of celebrations, there will be events galore and activity packs for libraries, bookshops and schools.  Visit the website and the Facebook page

Perhaps the piĆ©ce de resistance however is the hardback gift edition, The Complete Alice which you will need to wait until June to get your hands on.  This volume will contain both Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass with some archive material, a foreword by Philip Pullman and illustrations by all the contributors.

In fact the whole collection is a delight, each book different, a new take on the story and a new way to engage with it, so go on, splash out and treat yourself to them all!

Let us know how you plan to celebrate this very special anniversary and send us your pictures too and we will compile a special report to feature them all.