Monday 22 April 2024

Blog tour: The Tower Ghost by Natasha Mac a'Bhaird and Lauren O'Neill (Children's, 9 years +, 10E/10E)


 April 2024, The O'Brien Press, 304 pages, Paperback, Review copy

Book summary from The O'Brien Press

 A ghost lurks in the tower above the first year dormitory at Sycamore Hill. Can Clare, Rose and Molly solve the mystery – before a killer strikes again?

Nayu's thoughts

I adore boarding school stories, and I'm patiently waiting for Natasha to hurry up and write book 2! All the classic elements of boarding school tales are present in young Clare's life: there is much detail about all the meals and snack boxes, there is plenty of friendship but it is not all smooth sailing which makes it all the more interesting. I liked that it is a school run by nuns, some slightly odd ones, others are really strict. I like it's set in the past where there are no mobile phones yet it never feels dated as the issues are as relevant back then as they are now.

What makes The Tower Ghost stand out from other boarding school stories are how it focuses on Clare not having it easy as she is a scholarship girl, something she tries her best to hide as she feels she will be viewed differently. She constantly feels she has to work hard, but thankfully by the end she lets herself have fun and doesn't only study all the time. Clare easily makes friends with Rose, it takes longer for them to become a trio with Molly for reasons that were interesting to unravel. 

The second major difference is the spooky element. It was creepy enough that I only read it in daylight hours, I'd have had kittens if I'd read this at night and had an unexpected noise as one my guinea pigs decided to eat some of their hay covered boxes! I liked that the supernatural element was woven in sensitively; by that I mean as someone who is religious I wasn't offended by how the ghostly goings on were portrayed. They got quite intense but thankfully there is humour throughout the tale which helps balance it out. I was positively delighted by the major twist at the end which I hadn't seen coming making the true culprit a wonderful surprise. I already want to re-read it to see if I can spot any clues of who it is 

Find out more on Natasha's website.

Suggested read

If you enjoy boarding school tales check out this ballet school mystery 

Peril En Pointe: Swan House Mystery #1 by Helen Lipscombe (Children's, 9 years +, 10E/10E)


Sunday 21 April 2024

Review: My Magic Land by Begona True (Children's, Picture book, Poetry, 9/10E)


May 2023, 31 pages, Paperback, Review Copy 

Book summary

From dancing plants and animals, to souring with friends through the skies upon clouds. From fishing on a bout that brings you the many potentials of your imagination, to the River of Laughter where a mysterious lady plays the piano with the drops of water from its cascade. And the magical crystal dimensions where anything can be created and where the main character creates an inseparable friend, her cat called "Yes".

Nayu's thoughts

What first appealed to me was Begona's soft and warm looking illustrations, simply looking at them makes me feel serene. I felt this was both a picture book and a poetry book, because there's a beautiful melodic feel to the words as imagination is explored, leading to fun characters and new places to explore. There is so much to look at on every image, from the full page illustrations to the smaller ones that fit alongside the prose. 

I can tell Begona had fun writing this, and is someone to whom boredom probably never exists with that vivid an imagination. It makes me feel like lazy summer days lying in the sunshine, or being cozy warm in winter as it drizzles with rain outside. This isn't a one-time read book, but one to return to when life is crazy and I need a break from the world. 

Suggested read

For more imaginative read check out The Art Garden by Penny Harrison and Penelope Pratley (Children's, Picture book 10E/10E) 



Thursday 4 April 2024

Review: Me and Aaron Ramsey by Manon Steffan Ros (Childrens, 9 years +, 9/10E)

 11th April 2024, Firefly Press, 160 pages, Paperback, Review copy 

Book summary from Firefly Press

 Me and Aaron Ramsey tells the story of Sam and his dad who both love football, which is always there for them however tough real life becomes. That is, until Dad’s dreams of football stardom go horribly wrong. Sam’s love for the footballing legend becomes tangled with his relationship for his father as things go south in their family life.

Nayu's thoughts

Despite not liking the sport I thoroughly enjoy reading children's football tales. I like the dedication to the game that Sam has, it's such a good connection to have with his father who already has a secret. I feel that football really keeps Sam going no matter what life throws at him, which ends up being two major life events. Over the course of the book he learns to trust and lean on his best friend Mo who, as it turns out, has almost exactly the same kind of life worries. The moment when these two opened up together was so beautiful I cried a little, as boys need to talk about feelings as much as girls.

Sam has to cope with his parents not getting a long, which on its own is a major issue. Add to that the secret his dad keeps tight to his chest which restricts the types of part time job he can have while being a low paid professional footballer, and then a life-changing incident, there are a lot of complicated feelings that Sam's father endures which has direct effect on Sam and his sister (and their mother). Seeing their lives crumble was realistic, and it takes Mo's mother, who is a force of nature, to get Sam's dad feeling less sorry for himself and taking action to improve his life how best he can. I was cheering him on throughout that journey - I'm not spoiling what the secret was as discovering it for myself was a surprise and also not a surprise. Let's just say that not everyone is as fully educated as they ideally should be upon reaching adulthood. 

This book is full of heartwarming friendships and real life drama that is handled accurately and sensitively. 

Suggested read

Other sport themed reads include this poetry book, Give Us a Goal by Paul Cookson (Children's, Non-Fiction, Poetry, 8/10)


Sunday 24 March 2024

Review: Super Mario 3D World (Nintendo Switch, platformer, 9/10E)


February 2021, Nintendo Switch, Platformer, Personal copy

Game summary from Nintendo

 From riding down river rapids, to skating across icy tundras, to even exploring a theme park built in the Koopa King’s own scaly image – excitement awaits around every corner, as you travel through the Sprixie Kingdom to save the princess and her followers from Bowser’s clutches!

Mario’s not going it alone – Luigi, Peach and Toad are ready to join in on the fun! Each character has their own unique abilities, so choose one to suit you.

 As an enhanced version of Super Mario 3D World, some brand new gameplay improvements have been made to spice up this adventure.

All characters have received a boost to their running speed and climb even higher after picking up a Super Bell, making platforming that little bit snappier. You can now also use gyro controls for certain sections of the game that previously required touch controls.

Nayu's thoughts

Technically this game includes DLC Bowser's Fury but I haven't been brave enough to try that part yet. I only just finished the base game of Super Mario 3D World and, since I could, I played the entire game as Princess Peach. This was much before I knew Princess Peach Showtime is launching tomorrow (22nd March) as I pre-scheduled this review. I felt this game was totally what I wanted in a Mario game. Super cute levels, with a lot of running around in a cute cat oufit. There is a decent mechanic of if you are not great at levels you can use an invincible icon at the start and breeze on through to the end. This did not prevent me from repeatedly falling at various jumps or acrobatics, but in the final levels especially it enabled me to complete the base game without having to repeat sections far too many times in ways that would make me cry. 

I love the vibrant vibe to this game, I only ever play handheld as I only have a Nintendo Switch Lite. It plays really well in my view, the music is upbeat and most of the levels are pretty coloured. I found a good amount of the collectables, maybe one day I will slowly try to collect them all. I know to get certain ones I will have to use other characters - even Mario - which will be a slight challenge for me, but I can mostly play as Princess Peach and will even give Toad a whirl as he looks cute in cat form. Mario never, EVER looks cute. Ever!!!! I really don't like him. 

The sole pic I could find on Nintendo's site of just Princess Peach (Rest were in multiplayer)

 I reached my goal of completing the base game before Princess Peach Showtime so I'm happy. I may dip in and out for collectables. I will try Bowser's Fury but I'm quite anxious that may prove too hard for me as it is supposed to be a harder level (and in a different format). I've played most of it which is what matters. I like the cloud areas and the way the lands connect to each other. It gives me happy feelings when I play, unlike some other Mario games that were too frustrating. May Nintendo make more cute Mario games like this which are slightly different to the norm and allow other characters to be the main focus! 

Saturday 23 March 2024

Journey Back to Freedom by Catherine Johnson (Children's, 9 years +, 8/10E)


September 2022, Barrington Stoke, 120 pages, Reading Age 8, 9 years +, Review copy 

Summary from Barrington Stoke

Aged only eleven, Olaudah Equiano was cruelly snatched away from his home in Africa and sold into slavery. He spent much of the next ten years at sea, travelling to the far corners of the globe, witnessing horrendous cruelty and occasional kindness, experiencing daring adventures and extreme peril. Throughout it all, he never gave up hope that one day he would be free again. But little did he imagine that the story of his remarkable life would become a bestselling book and help the cause to abolish slavery.

Nayu's thoughts

I think I knew the story when I received it for review, but I forgot, saw the pretty cover and dived in thinking it's a happy tale. I didn't get past chapter one. These days I struggle with reality stories, and I knew this wasn't for me. I've read Catherine's books in the past so know the tale will be a good one. I peeked at the end and it is happy but I just can't cope with all the middle bits knowing it's based on reality. I still wanted to feature it because Catherine is a brilliant author, plus the cover by Katie Hickey is stunning. So check it out if you like this kind of historical based read! There are the usual Barrington Stoke easy to read font on off-white pages. 

Find out more on Catherine's website.

Suggested read

Other books by Catherine include those for older readers like The Curious Tale of the Lady Caraboo by Catherine Johnson (Young Adult, 9/10E) 

Friday 22 March 2024

Review: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, Translated by Louse and Aylmer Maude (Classical Literature, 8/10E)


Originally published 1878, this edition March 2012, Dover Publications, 978 pages, Ebook, Personal copy

Book summary


Nayu's thoughts
I never read Tolstoy at school, but a dear Norwegian friend wanted to read it so I joined her. It was an epic read for sure but, imagine my surprise when the first chapter revealed Tolstoy to be much more readable than Jane Austen! I was delighted as I struggled with some Austen books. Tolstoy, at least in this translation, I could happily read more than once.

An edition I wish I could own, but it's leather so I can't. So gorgeous!!

Anna Karenina is reknown for being extremely long. However, read over a period of two months with about one part a week it felt a lot shorter. It really helped that I enjoyed a lot of the main characters (not Anna). There is no excuse on earth for adultery. Levin and Kitty's growing friendship after Kitty initially rejected him was a joy to read. Sometimes I read ahead of my allocated reading simply because I needed to know what happens next, which is totally the sign of a good book. Because I talked about it so much another friend is considering trying it. There are some chapers that are dull, and I felt the final part of the book was a bit odd in terms of Levin's bizarre attitude, considering all he had overcome mentally his sudden spiritual crisis and being less attentive to Kitty felt against is nature. 

I don't have much care for Anna. What she did was wrong. She was frequently selfish regarding her only child, her original husband was willing to forgive her transgressions but she was determined to throw away her old life and have her new one. It is not a surprise that she met a sorry end. The lead up to that end was brilliantly written. Russia at that time felt so alive in the novel, I loved learning about the farming culture, which felt initially quite free-ing from the city's elite circles but Levin discovered trying to get labourers to try anything new was a monumental feat. 

I'm actually looking forward to when we tackle War and Peace because I've made sure to get the same translation as Anna, but not looking to the vast quantity of characters. I do highly recommend Anna Karenina as a read, and this is from someone who does not necessarily love classics!  

Suggested read

Not really reviewed classics but for a historical read check out The Seamstress by Maria Duenas, translated by Daniel Hahn (Historical, Fiction, 9/10E)


Thursday 21 March 2024

Review: Finn Family Moomintroll by Tove Jansson, Translator Elizabeth Portch (Children's, 7 years +, 9/10E)

Originally 1948, this edition 2023, Puffin, 182 pages, Paperback, Personal copy 

Book summary from Puffin

 Poor little chap! He had been turned into a very strange animal indeed . . .

Although they're small, fat and shy creatures, Moomins have the most amazing adventures. It all begins when Moominpappa tries on a magic hat that makes exciting and funny things happen . . .

Finn Family Moomintroll is the best-loved book in the cult classic Moomin series by Tove Jansson. A must-read for both children and adults.

Nayu's thoughts

As a child I remember reading about the Moomins but some of the characters scared me so I then avoided anything to do with them. The Moomins themselves look like marshmallow creatures, white and rounded. The other creatures...well I still don't like them but their characters in their non-illustrative form are absolutely fine! 

There's a new Moomin game out on Nintendo Switch which is why I wanted to reread one of their tales. They are really charming, especially on learning they hibnerate. They all have distinctive personalities which as a whole lead to amusing tales. I liked how some of the scary seeming characters ended up being rather friendly souls and helpful in their own way. I like how the characters explain some natural phenomena, and just what an odd bunch the Moomin family which includes other creatures too. Some are philosophical, others are straight forward in how they view life. Overall they are fun and I may slowly collect the books and ignore the illustrations that still freak me out. 

Suggested read

A series from my childhood that I adore is Babar The Elepehant Babar's Celesteville Games + Le Chateau de Babar by Laurent de Brunhoff (Children's, Picture books, 10E/10E)