Posted by: janesandell | October 12, 2018

Wide Eyed Books

Wide Eyed Editions is aptly named.  Its books are truly full of wonder.  Even when they deal with subjects I’m not interested in, I love looking through them and am loathe to part with them to a deserving child.  When they’re on my subjects I don’t even try to give them away!

Two books landed on my desk last week and they’re both looking for space on my shelves.  There’s no debate about one of them.  Maps always stay.


I love maps and quirky ones like this are great fun.  Obviously the first thing I did was to turn to the maps of places with which I have a connection.  Sadly, Lossiemouth itself isn’t on the map but there is box about Ramsay Macdonald, the local loon who went on to become the first British Labour Prime Minister.  There’s no mention either for Mum’s birthplace of Musselburgh but the nearby Museum of Flight on the former East Fortune airfield.  Did you know that you can board Concorde there?  And, talking of flight, do you know where the world’s shortest scheduled flight is?  If not, turn to the map of Orkney to find out.  I’ve been dipping in and out of the book ever since I got it and I know that there’s still loads for me to discover.

The other book is hugely appealing to me as it has a liner on the cover and it’s set in the 1920s!  I love being at sea and I adore the grandeur and opulence of the ships of that period.  The book is full of wonderful ephemera, the illustrations are fantastic and it’s all about developments in communication.  In addition to that there’s a mystery to solve with the help of first mate Logan Finn and geographer and explorer Nancy Delaney.


Both of these books have extremely high production values and are full of interesting information superbly packaged.  The illustrations are engaging and detailed and contain much on which to ponder.

Posted by: janesandell | October 4, 2018

The Key to Flambards by Linda Newbery

Flambards by KM Peyton was published just before I was born.  I discovered it twelve years later when it was still the first in a trilogy although that trilogy would develop into a quartet a year or so later.  I enjoyed Flambards, although I was not then, and am not now, at all horsey!  The hunting and horse-riding and mucking out stables was all very well but I was really grabbed by two things: the house and the heroine.

Christina, an orphan, arrives at Flambards at the age of twelve to live with her unsympathetic Uncle Russell and his two sons, Mark and Will.  She realises that her uncle would like to marry her off to Mark, the elder, favoured son, so that her inheritance could be used to preserve Flambards.  But Christina dislikes her cousin as much as she loves the house.  It is Will, who has a passion for flying, to whom Christina is attracted.  And so the scene is set for the struggle between old and new, tradition and modernity.

The second book remains my favourite.  In fact, it is one of my favourite books of all.  The Edge of the Cloud, which won the Carnegie Medal, is Christina and Will’s story and is set away from Flambards although the house and all it stands for looms over their lives.  And to my mind it is this book that Linda Newbery has written a follow-up to.

The Key to Flambards is not a sequel to the quartet; it is a modern story with new characters but it is set in the house and it revisits some of the action and characters from KM Peyton’s novels.  It is important to say that Linda had Kathy Peyton’s blessing in writing her book and I am sure that the latter is pleased with the result.  Grace, the main character, is Christina’s descendant.  She and her mother arrive at Flambards, now a residential centre, for the summer and Grace is captivated by the house and her family history some of which the centre manager has unearthed.

As everyone who has read Linda Newbery’s books would expect, Flambards leaps off the page.  Linda’s settings are always wonderfully evoked and this is no exception.  As I read, a picture grew in my mind and I could see the action very clearly set in a definite environment.  And her characters are her other strength.  This is not a plot-driven novel.  It’s the story of a house and some of the people associated with it.  It is an exploration of family, friendship and love, and a consideration of the concept of continuity.  Perhaps that makes it sound too worthy, though.  I should point out that I read it in one sitting, finishing at two in the morning!  It was properly a page-turner.

Anyway it’s here now, published today (with a beautiful dust wrapper by Katie Harnett)  and it’s a real treat.  It’s an excellent book in its own right whether or not you’ve ever heard of the Flambards quartet.  You certainly don’t need to have read KM Peyton’s books to enjoy or understand Linda’s, although, if you have met them before,  you’ll get a kick out of hearing about Christina and Will again.


Posted by: janesandell | October 2, 2018

Armistice Runner by Tom Palmer

From my publishing favourite Barrington Stoke comes this young novel to mark the one hundredth anniversary of the Armistice.  It’s the story of three generation and the memories that unite them. Lily is a fell runner – fairly successful but never quite winning.  To add to her worries about that is the realisation that her Gran has Alzheimer’s.  At times she is still quite lucid but her health is gradually deteriorating.  And then there’s Ernest, Gran’s Grandfather.  His wartime story has been long forgotten but a chance remark triggers Gran’s memories.

Ernest’s story is fascinating, simply but evocatively told, conjuring up images of the battle-weary landscape and men of the Western Front.  It is poignant in its matter-of-factness.  And it is nicely interwoven with Lily’s present day story of rivalry, competition and worry about the future.  In between sits Gran looking back and drawing the past into the present.  Tom Clohosy Cole’s illustrated footers add to the sense of continuation that the story engenders.

I read this in one sitting as any confident young reader might do.  But less fluent readers will not find it daunting, and the story is split into well-paced and satisfying chapters.  This is ideal for personal reading but it would also be a good choice for a group read with much to discuss and think about between sessions.

Posted by: janesandell | September 27, 2018

The Skylarks’ War by Hilary MacKay

I’m already an admirer of Hilary McKay’s writing so it wasn’t a stretch for the publisher (Macmillan) to get me to read a proof of The Skylarks’ War.  Quite simply, it is the best book I have read by Hilary.  She has excelled herself .

Set in the early part of the twentieth century, it is a wonderful piece of writing about love, loyalty, friendship and war.  Clarry, Peter, Rupert, Simon and Vanessa are superb, well-rounded characters with flaws and failings, feelings and fears who interact in the complex ways of human beings.  The story is engrossing and involving and un-put-downable!  I read it almost without stopping, desperate to know how things would be resolved – or not.  I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Posted by: janesandell | September 26, 2018

Two from Barrington Stoke

Barrington Stoke never fails to impress me.  As a publishing house it is constant and consistent in its efforts to make great stories available to as many readers as possible.  It is known as the publisher for books supporting children and young people with dyslexia.  In my day job managing library services for this group, Barrington Stoke is my first thought when asked by anxious parents or teachers what I can suggest.  And the people who work for the company – both the permanent staff and their contracted authors – are passionate about what they produce.

Therefore I am always eager to receive review copies of what they produce.  And in this they never let me down either!  Currently I have four of their titles on my desk.  Two, although they have a reading age of eight, are very definitely teenage books.  They are True Sisters by Keren David and Firebird by Elizabeth Wein.

I met Keren a few years ago at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.  In preparation I read her books for the first time and enjoyed them.  So when I saw True Sisters I was very happy to have something else by her to read.  It’s Ruby’s story: of a complicated family set-up, an ever-changing household of foster siblings, a passion for performance and a secret hidden even from herself.  And it’s Clara’s story: of a troubled family, an unawareness of the world, fear and bewilderment and an entirely new way of living.  Somehow the girls each find a path through their lives, stumbling though it maybe and by the end of the book both feel there is hope in their lives.

I should have met Elizabeth two years ago at Edinburgh but instead I was flirting with death back home in Moray.  I was gutted to miss chairing her event.  In preparation I had traumatised myself reading The Pearl Thief and Codename Verity, both of which affected me deeply.  Firebird is completely different but no less powerful  It is Nastia’s story, the story of a young woman at war in a man’s world, a pilot fighting for the Motherland, the daughter of revolutionary parents.  It is also the story of a truth long hidden and its far-reaching consequences.

I’m whole-heartedly recommending both of these whether you’re a teenager or adult and whether or not you have any reading difficulties.  As you would expect from two such talented writers and a prestigious publisher they are excellent novels and deserve a place on library shelves and in private collections.



Posted by: janesandell | September 5, 2018

To the Edge of the World by Julia Green

To the Edge of the World is set on the west coast, in the Hebrides and beyond.  It’s the story of Jamie, recently returned to his mother’s island home, and of Mara, an incomer for whom the wild surroundings are everything.  Jamie is afraid of the sea whilst Mara is afraid of losing it.  In the course of the novel they both face their greatest fears.  Will they survive the encounters?

At the recent Edinburgh International Book Festival I had the great pleasure of meeting Julia Green and chairing an event with her and Elizabeth Laird whom I have known and admired for some years.  We were discussing their recent novels for young people, both set on the Scottish coast.

In the course of a long career working in libraries and interacting with authors I have never lost the excitement that comes with hearing a writer talk about her work.  Listening to Julia chat about her book with Elizabeth and me brought its landscape into clear focus and her characters vividly to life.  And the audience’s questions – along with Julia’s answers – made me think about different aspects of the novel.

The sea is a major player in the book.  Julia’s descriptions of it in its many moods are perfect.  She completely captures its capricious nature so that the reader feels as though it is there.  And for me the descriptions of the sea, its vagaries and the characters’ responses to it were what the book was all about.  I choose to live by the sea because I love it but I have seen and experienced how it can wreak devastation.  I’m not an outdoors girl by any stretch of the imagination but I’ve lived away from the sea and been frantic for the sound and smell and taste of it.  So I empathise with both Jamie and Mara and understand their opposing fears.

If all that To the Edge of the World had going for it was its depictions of the sea, I’d have been happy.  But, of course, there’s more.  There’s an interesting supporting cast, interwoven plot strands and a satisfying story to captivate the reader.  Let that reader be you.



Posted by: janesandell | August 30, 2018

Suffragette: the battle for equality by David Roberts

I’m fascinated by the early part of the twentieth century; it was such a turbulent time in British history.  The First World War aside, one of the most significant features of that period was the campaign for votes for women.  By the outbreak of war only New Zealand, Finland and Norway had universal suffrage.  By the end of 1918 another eight countries had joined them.  The United Kingdom was one of another handful that had moved some way towards electoral equality but it would be another ten years before men and women had equal voting rights.  By then we were lagging way behind Sweden, Albania and Mongolia amongst others.

Nowadays the campaign for votes for women in this country is largely synonymous in the popular consciousness with the so-called Suffragettes.  Fronted by Emmeline Pankhurst and her eldest daughter Christabel, the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) became noted for its acts of violence in pursuit of its aims.  But there is a much deeper history to tell.

And, in this excellent book, David Roberts tells it.  Beginning with an overview of the situation up to 1903, he then focuses on the newly formed WSPU and details the key events of the militants’ campaign, as well as their contribution to British society at war, concluding with universal suffrage in 1928 .  The book ends with an overview of the international perspective.

Inevitably Roberts uses pictures along with his words and together they provide an excellent introduction to the subject for younger readers.  It is not, however, simplistic even though it is accessible.  An adult reader looking for an overview of the subject would find it here.  The illustrations are vibrant and dynamic, designed to capture interest at the same time as educating.

The book is a desirable item in its own right.  Two Hoots has packaged David Roberts’ work attractively and sympathetically, frequently including full-page illustrations alongside smaller details giving the book an expansive feel. It’s a book that I expect to dip into time and again and I am sure that any young teenager fortunate enough to acquire a copy would feel the same.

Posted by: janesandell | August 22, 2018

Tin by Padraig Kenny

I’ve been chairing events this week at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.  I missed last year due to illness so I’m particularly delighted to be back.  I’m now halfway through my events and I’ve loved them all and enjoyed all the books I’ve read in preparation.  It’s really tricky to pick out highlights and I expect that over the next few weeks I’ll write about any of the books I’ve been talking about with their authors.  But I have to start somewhere.

And I’ve chosen Tin by Padraig Kenny, partly because I met him for the first time today and enjoyed his company very much; and partly because I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it.  If I’m being honest, I would almost certainly not have chosen to read Tin if I’d had a completely free choice.  But that’s part of the joy of being involved in the EIBF.  Janet, the Children’s Programme Director, selects events for me to chair and I pretty much say yes to everything.  Then the books come through and I realise I have to read sci-fi and horror and fantasy as well as the kind of books I naturally gravitate towards.

Tin, I learned today, is set in an alternative 1930s England where child-sized mechanicals are created to carry out certain tasks.  These mechanicals (NOT robots!) live and move and have their being at the whim of the engineers who create them.  Christopher, however, is Proper, a real boy who works for an engineer but has a group of highly individual mechanicals as his friends.

I don’t want to spoil the story for you because I really think you should read this book.  It’s about friendship and wonder and loyalty and trust.  There’s a mystery and a quest and a bit of magic.  But mostly it’s about wonderful, wonderful characters, each with their own personality and motivation and traits.  And it is beautifully written, full of humour and sadness and confusion.

By now you’d have thought that I might have stopped judging books by their cover.  Thank goodness for the Edinburgh International Book Festival is all I can say.  I’d have hated to miss this new author and his debut novel.  Trust me.

Posted by: janesandell | July 15, 2018

A Secret Diary of the First World War by Gill Arbuthnott

These past five years or so have been excellent for me.  Over the years I have collected up as much fiction as I could set during and around the First World War.  It’s a period of history that has long fascinated me and I have been interested to see how novelists deal with it.  As we have marked the War’s centenary publishers have fallen over themselves issuing and re-issuing books that tie in.  Some are good, some not.  But I have added many titles to my collection.

One of the things I have particularly enjoyed is reading books that give a Scottish perspective and I was fortunate enough to receive one such last week from Floris Books.  A Secret Diary of the First World War is inspired by an actual account of a teenager who fought on the Western Front.  Gill Arbuthnott has used his story to make the Great War more accessible to younger readers.  James Marchbank really existed and, as a fourteen year old Territorial, was legitimately called up at the beginning of the War and sent to France (although regulations changed soon after meaning that men had to be 18 to serve abroad).  He kept a diary and Gill has used it as the basis for her book which also includes blocks of explanation to help modern readers.  The book is illustrated by Darren Gate in a very engaging style.

I’m very glad to have this book and I’ll certainly add it to my collection.  The only problem I have with it is knowing where to shelve it.  It seems to me that it’s more fact than fiction but it reads as a story.  I guess it’s not a huge problem.  I could just buy another copy!  But wherever libraries and bookshops decide to shelve it, I hope that they draw it to the attention of young people as this is a book that deserves to be read.

Posted by: janesandell | July 2, 2018

The Mapmakers’ Race by Eirlys Hunter

New Zealand publishing house Gecko Press doesn’t publish all that many novels so it makes sense to pay attention when it does.  Just out is The Mapmakers’ Race by Eirlys Hunter and I was fortunate enough to receive a review copy.

The Santander family is in dire straits when they decide to enter the Great Mapmakers’ Race to find a way through some uncharted country.  With their explorer and route-finder father missing on his latest expedition that task falls to Ma, mapmaker extraordinaire, and the children: Sal, Joe, Francie and Humphrey.  When Ma is stranded en route to the start line all seems lost.

Lack of money and lack of confidence vie with each other but finally the children decide to enter the race alone. A lucky meeting with a young local adds practical skills to their more creative ones and they set off optimistically enough.  The task is twofold: to win the race and to produce the best map of the best route for road and rail.  Naturally all does not go smoothly as the inexperienced team attempts to cope with the terrain, the bad behaviour of some of the other teams and the responsibility that has been thrust onto their untried shoulders.

Eirlys Hunter has created well-rounded characters who snap and snarl at each other one minute while encouraging and supporting the next.  All have flaws as well as virtues that make them come alive convincingly.  Interestingly there is no setting in either time or place explicitly given, something that would usually bother me.  However, the author paints wonderful word pictures of the countryside being mapped.

And she is aided in this by the wonderful maps and illustrations of Kirsten Slade.  I love a map beyond most things and I think I would buy this book purely for its cartography!  I  was audibly excited when I realised that the whole route was being mapped out before my eyes.  Not only that but Kirsten Slade beautifully captures moments of exhilaration, the quirks of some of the teams and the togetherness of Beckett and the Santanders.

I galloped through this book, finding it difficult to leave and I am hopeful of a sequel.  There is, it seems to me, unfinished business.  I’d whole-heartedly recommend this book to children who like a good adventure and compelling storytelling.

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