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Set in the 1930s and inspired by Much Ado About Nothing, this thrilling feast of coming-of-age edginess is giddy with the glamour of freethinking artists, and tingles with romantic tension. Constrained by her life in England, aspiring natural historian Bea constantly battles her parents’ attempts to marry her off: “As far as my parents are concerned, daughters aren’t a terribly useful asset. I’m not supposed to go out in the world and actually do things.” But being “too big, too loud, too clever – too much”, Bea has her own ideas about her future, which she’s able to embrace when she’s sent to stay with her wealthy uncle in Italy and discovers with glee that “things at Villa di Stelle might not be so respectable after all.” Among the villa’s vibrant collective of artists is handsome painter Ben, and sparks fly between he and Bea from the off. A lighthearted challenge sees them set out to enjoy a summer romance without falling in love, until events at a decadent party to invoke rain turn out to be explosive in more ways than one. As the heavens crack open, fireworks fly between Ben and Bea and their lives will never be the same again. Alongside Bea’s awakening of body and heart, she also realises that she cannot return to her previous life. She wants what the artists’ have: an “all-consuming passion for their work...a purpose, a vocation.” With the conflict between her free-spirited nature and societal constraints exacerbated by her Italian experiences, with the world now opened up to her, the gateway cannot be closed. The author’s Great Gatsby-esque A Sky Painted Gold was a 2018 favourite of mine, and this is every bit as bathed in coming-of-age hope and a sense of being on the brink of something special.
Jacqueline Wilson’s historical novels tell vivid, enthralling stories about young girls in testing situations, and Rose Rivers is classic Wilson. Rose is the daughter of a wealthy family – her father is a respected artist, though their wealth comes from her mother, or rather her grandfather, a mill owner. Rose loves to sketch, a great way of getting her father’s attention, but is frustrated by the restrictions on her life, and her mother’s expectations for her. The family has a large staff, and it’s the arrival of two new servants that provides the catalyst for change in Rose’s life. They are a new ‘nurse’ for Rose’s sister Beth, who has challenging learning disabilities; and our old friend Clover Moon, who becomes a real and valuable friend to Rose. The Victorian setting is very well described, but the real issues are timeless: friendship, family, finding your independence.
June 2019 Book of the Month, A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month June 2019 | The opportunities the suffragette movement offered for bright girls like Daisy, the twelve year old star of this exciting and award-winning story, is brilliantly capture in a book that is full of bustle and energy and danger. Growing up in cramped conditions in the East End of London Daisy’s life is hard. When she’s not at school where she is always in trouble for being too smart, she helps her mum with her younger sister and baby twin brothers. But Daisy has always had dreams of a brighter future: she knows that when she grows up she wants to become a nurse like the great Florence Nightingale. But Daisy is watching her own mother have little chance of doing what she really wants so what chance will she have since she is just a girl? When Daisy meets the suffragettes everything changes. It is scary to think what she would have to give up but Daisy is prepared to do anything to enjoy the new kind of freedom they are offering. Barbara Mitchelhill is skilfully at bringing this important and fascinating moment to life.
A fast-paced read packed with historical detail In the Shadow of Heroes is a clever blend of intrigue, politics, crime, history and a bit of fantasy. Set in Rome at the time of Emperor Nero, it weaves some Greek mythology – the tale of the Golden Fleece – into the world of the Roman elite. When unexpected visitors turn up at Tullus’s house one night, his slave Cadmus, an educated boy slave who was taken in by Tullus after having been abandoned as a baby, knows that something dangerous is afoot. The visitors bring a box with something that is clearly very desirable in it. What can it be? When Tullus disappears and Cadman is given a message by a slave who was formerly a British princess he set off on a trail to find out what is going on. The plot is twisty and inventive ensuring that the reader remains enthralled through out.
Brothers Marcus and Julian Sedgewick last worked together on the Kate Greenaway shortlisted graphic novel Dark Satanic Mills and here they are blessed by the artistic talents of the award winning Alexis Deacon to co-create a story wonderfully told through the interplay of poetry, prose and pictures. Set in London as the V2 rocket bombs wreak havoc and destruction where the intense childhood relationship of the poet and older brother Ellis and the younger artist brother Harry has foundered on Harry’s anti-war and anti- family stance since their father runs a munitions firm. Ellis is home from the front and Harry is desperate for a reconciliation and to share his masterwork Warriors in the Machine- inspired by his nights fighting fires and his nightmarish visions of future wars. After Harry leaves the pub the bomb falls, Harry wakes in hospital with a serious head wound and Ellis apparently lost in the blast. In a state of semi delirium, the lines between reality, his vision of the future and the myth of Orpheus blur. His quest to find and rescue his brother, accompanied by a Jewish refugee girl desperate to be reunited with the parents she has lost, mirrors Orpheus’ journey to the Underworld. This is a powerful, lyrical anti-war fable inspired and given depth and authenticity by the fact that Marcus and Julian’s own father was a Quaker and a Conscientious Objector in WW2. While a fascinating reworking of the myth this depiction of war will speak to young people concerned about the times in which we live and humanities seemingly eternal warmongering.
May 2019 Debut of the Month | Bombs, ruthless enemies, a channel crossing in the dark, minefields – young Pip has to negotiate all these dangers in the course of this exciting, beautifully written wartime adventure story. It would be challenge enough for anyone, but Pip is a mouse, newly orphaned and homeless too. Fortunately, though she’s small, she’s very, very brave and nothing will stop her in her quest to deliver the umbrella that’s been her home back to the museum in Italy where her mother grew up. Along the way, she joins Churchill’s secret animal army and fights with the Allied forces. It’s testament to the quality of Anna Fargher’s writing that readers will believe in Pip one hundred per cent. The wartime background is vivid and completely convincing and Pip and her animal comrades are beguiling characters. Original adventure from an exciting new author.
Gripping and lyrical, this is a multi-layered novel with a strong historical background of the witch hunting that took place during the English Civil War crossed with a story of the fairy world and the different kind of magic that is inherent in nature. Both are based on a confusion of half truths which are spun into greater certainties that can carry great risks and penalties. Nell, the child at the centre of it all, lives her life in fear and tells her story capturing the wonder and danger of it all.
Jacqueline Wilson is as at home writing about the past as she is writing about contemporary times and this story of Mona growing up in the 1920s is full of her trademarks: a booky little heroine, an unconventional family, creativity rewarded, and the importance of love and honesty. Mona lives with her aunty who works her fingers to the bone as a seamstress to support her niece. Their home is the gamekeeper’s cottage in the grounds of the local landowners’ estate and as the story unfolds Mona’s life becomes intertwined with the aristocratic Somersets, for all her lowly birth. The post-war period with its new sense of freedom and expression is brilliantly evoked, and Mona’s journey of self-discovery perfectly matches the new era. With a special guest appearance by Hetty Feather this is classic Wilson and will thoroughly enchant her legions of fans.
April 2019 Debut of the Month | Marcia Williams is best known for her beautifully illustrated retellings of classic stories. For her first novel she has found inspiration in a true story. Cloud Boy takes the form of a diary written by a girl called Angie throughout a year in which her best friend Harry becomes seriously ill. Interspersed with her entries are readings of her grandmother’s letters - very like diary entries - which were written though never sent when she was a child prisoner in the notorious Changi WW2 camp in Singapore. As things get very difficult for Harry, Angie is by turns sad, scared, frightened and angry. Her grandmother’s letters provide distraction and comfort, especially the descriptions of a quilt the girls in the camp made in secret. The two stories are told with great sensitivity and despite the suffering being described the overwhelming sense is one of resilience and hope.
April 2019 Book of the Month | A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month April 2019 | The inspiring story of Mary Anning who, born at the end of the eighteenth century, fought against all the odds to become a pioneering scientist and fossil hunter. Inspired by her father who took her out on fossil hunting expeditions on the cliffs and beaches around Lyme Regis, Mary was fascinated by the beauty of the finds and by what they said about the past. Her exceptional curiosity was matched by incredible courage which led her to take dare-devil risks as she searched for rare examples. She also knew their worth and was never shy in selling them well to the many visitors to the area who came to wonder. Anthea Simmons tells Mary’s story as an exciting adventure and also as a rousing story of what an intelligent and brave woman can do.
March 2019 Debut of the Month | This compulsive conjuration of decadence, desire, deceit and rebellion is a truly dazzling debut - historical fantasy at its finest. Paris, 1789, and spirited seventeen-year-old Camille has assumed responsibility for her younger sister, Sophie, following the deaths of their parents to smallpox, their struggles exacerbated by a violent, drunken brother who gambles away what little they have. Romantic Sophie dreams of being an aristocrat like their maternal Grandmère (their mother forsook the privileged life when she married their anti-Royalist father) and Camille longs to re-open her beloved dad’s printing press. However, desperation forces her to use the one thing of value she inherited from her mother – magic. While she initially uses her ancestresses’ gifts to transform “bits of metal into coins” so they can survive, it’s not long before she ups the stakes. After deploying a “dark and creeping magic” to transform herself into the beautiful Baroness de la Fontaine, Camille enters the opulent court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette set on “fleecing the nobles for all their worth”. But here she discovers that she’s not the only one with such powers, not everyone is who they seem, and conflicts crackle at every turn. Camille is seduced by her glamorous new life while despising the aristocracy, and then there’s unconventional, warm-hearted aeronaut Lazare, whom she falls for. Underpinned by a spirit of rebellion and radiant with romance, this is an entertaining, intoxicating read.
An absolutely compelling, pyschological insight into the woman who created the much studied Gothic novel Frankenstein which will illuminate that study enormously and ensure a much deeper understanding. Mary Godwin’s own story is, of course, as dramatic and heartrending as her novel and Sharon Dogar brings her vividly to life. The reader is swept up by the romance of the young lovers, Mary and Shelley, but probably astonished at her youth; she was only 16 when they eloped, and genuinely shocked at their courage in defying society and conventional morality. Then outraged by the way she is treated by her father; a radical philosopher in writing only and certainly not in his actions and then very nearly overwhelmed by the tragedy that dogs her. But the strength of this beautifully written and cleverly constructed novel is the insight into the other players in this drama as well as into Mary’s emotional and mental turmoil. The clue is in the clever title – not Monster but Monsters and Mary’s frank understanding of her own monstrous behaviour, especially to stepsister Claire or Shelley’s wife Harriet, perfectly counterpoints the lack of self-awareness in Mr Godwin, Byron, Claire and Shelley himself. This left me desperate to re-read Frankenstein which surely shows this thoughtful novel can be a real gift to English teachers everywhere. - Joy Court