Book Review: The Wolf Wilder written by Katherine Rundell and illustrated by Gelrev Ongbico

Book Review: The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell

Shelved: Children’s fiction (historical, adventure)
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

“Stories can start revolutions.”

The Wolf Wilder was one of my most anticipated books of 2015. I worked at Bloomsbury Children’s before it was published and I refused to read my early copy as I wanted to wait to see Gelrev Ongbico’s divine illustrations . And it was well worth the wait. I cannot decide which cover for The Wolf Wilder I love the most; it’s a stunning book, inside and out.

The Wolf Wilder is a beautiful story about one girl’s treacherous adventure through dangerous, snowy Russia to save her mother, who has been attacked and captured by the Russian Army because she refused to give them what they wanted. They burned down the house and dragged her away to a Russian prison, as ordered by the diabolical general, Mikhail Rakov. Feodora’s mother is a wolf wilder and Feo is a wolf wilder in training. A wolf wilder teaches tamed animals to fend for themselves, to fight and to run, and to be wary of humans. Wolves are often sent back into the wild by rich owners who have grown bored – or afraid – of their good luck charms, but it’s bad luck to kill a wolf. Accompanied by three loyal wolves and a surprisingly trustworthy boy soldier called Ilya, Feo sets off into the woods and begins a journey that will change her life. Feo is a resilient and determined character, and an absolute joy to read about.

Wolves, like children, are not born to lead calm lives.”

It’s certainly been the year of the wolf because this is the second ‘wolf’ book to make my top ten books of the year. I loved learning about each of the wolves and their personalities: White, Grey and Black, plus the adorable wolf cub and Feo’s dutiful Tenderfoot. All of the wolves are characters in their own right and guide the courageous children as they defy the adults around them. Katherine Rundell’s picturesque and memorable writing combined with Gelrev Ongbico’s haunting and wintry illustrations create a fantastic adventure story for all ages. I do not have any excuses for not picking up my copy of Rooftoppers, do I?!

“It’s inhuman to take your books away before you know the end.”

Published: September 2015
Publisher: Bloomsbury Children’s (UK) Simon & Schuster (US)
Pages: 336

Books On My TBR / Autumn 2015Behold the Pretty Books! / September Book Haul

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (Classic #10)

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (Classic #10)

Shelved: Classic (coming-of-age, historical fiction)
Published: 1940
Rating: ★★★★★
Challenge: Classics Challenge – #10
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

Here’s my 10th post for the 2015 Classics Challenge!

“The world was hers for the reading.”

The Nolans lived in the Williamsburg slums of Brooklyn from 1902 until 1919. Their daughter Francie and their son Neely knew more than their fair share of the privations and suffering that were the lot of New York’s poor. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is the story of Francie, an imaginative, alert, resourceful child, and of her family.

WHEN I Discovered This Classic
I was watching a video by Priscilla at The Readables when I came across it. Priscilla gave it an amazing review and so I asked for it for Christmas – over 3 years ago!

WHY I Chose to Read It
I chose to read it because I’ve had it for so long that it was about time. And this year I discovered that it was one of the most popular books on my TBR, much to my surprise.

WHAT Makes It A Classic
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn probably doesn’t count as a classic in the UK because it’s a very American story. Nonetheless, I’m sure children grew up in similar circumstances in east London in the early 1900s, too. I can see why it’s treasured across the pond. I wish it was as popular here because even though the historical setting may not be the same, the colourful characters go beyond time and place. It’s a classic coming-of-age novel; a story that’s quiet and yet full of life.

WHAT I Thought of This Classic
It’s my first 5* classic of the year (excluding To Kill a Mockingbird, which was a re-read). Hooray! I was starting to worry that there wouldn’t be one this year but A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is sensational. I adored reading about young Francie Nolan, growing up as a ferocious reader (quite a Matilda-like character) and, later, an aspiring writer. It was both painful and heartwarming to hear about the troubles that her family go through, from her aunt Sissy’s miscarriages to her father Johnny’s alcoholism, and not forgetting her mother Katie’s determination and strength. Often Katie feels like a woman in her 40s because she’s been through so much, but she’s about my age! A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is an utterly wonderful and unforgettable tale of family and growing up.

“Oh, magic hour, when a child first knows she can read printed words.”

WILL It Stay A Classic
It’s a beloved book in the USA and I’m sure it’ll be read for many years to come – Francie’s tale will never stop being poignant.

WHO I’d Recommend It To
People who love young adult and children’s fiction. People who love slow (but not boring!) stories. People who love stories about people – especially bookish characters!

“And always, there was the magic of learning things.”

Books On My TBR / Autumn 2015

Book Review: The Diviners by Libba Bray

Book Review: The Diviners by Libba Bray

The Diviners (#1)
Young adult fiction (fantasy, historical, mystery, horror)
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads
Challenge: Halloween TBR – #3

I’ve owned The Diviners for over 3 years and I finally picked it up as part of this year’s Halloween reads. Hurrah! I couldn’t wait to get stuck into this 1920s murder mystery. Evie O’Neill’s secret ability has led her from small-town Ohio to sparkling New York City, full of speakeasies and Ziegfield girls. She’s living with Uncle ‘Unc’ Will at the Museum of Creepy Crawlies when she befriends a whole host of alluring characters: Sam, Jericho, Mabel and Theta, all with their own credible histories and drawn by beautiful writing. Together they attempt to solve the murders before it’s too late.

The mystery of creepy Naughty John was certainly an experience. Libba Bray has an impressive ability to make it as eerie as possible – from our opening chapter, where we’re introduced to something terrible being unleashed, to the chilling points of view of the victims before they’re murdered. She presents New York as somewhere dark and dangerous, but also intriguing.  Although I’ve never been a superfan of 1920s America, it was difficult to resist. It was compelling and magical and sinister, with scary things lurking in the shadows. I couldn’t help but be drawn to it – by both the glamour and the grittiness.

The Diviners is wonderfully crafted, with incredible detail. We’re told so much about the time, the characters, and the mystery. The reader accompanies Evie and friends on their investigation into the gruesome, brutal murders occurring across the city, with links to religion and the occult. If I had any reservations at all, it would be that I’d have preferred the story to be ~200 pages shorter to tighten it up and make it a little more fast-paced, which appeals to me as a slow reader. But this extra time did mean that we got to delve into the characters’ complicated pasts. It enabled Libba Bray to bring 1920s New York City to life.

The Diviners is a stunning mystery that takes us back to the Roaring Twenties and the supernatural horrors found there. I’m looking forward to meeting new Diviners and a new mystery in Lair of Dreams.

Published: September 2012
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (US) Atom (UK)
Pages: 592

Books On My TBR / HalloweenBooks On My TBR / Halloween

Book Review: Wolf By Wolf by Ryan Graudin

Book Review: Wolf By Wolf by Ryan Graudin

Series: Wolf By Wolf (#1)
Young adult fiction (historical, fantasy)
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

Once upon a different time, there was a girl who lived in a kingdom of death. Wolves howled up her arm. A whole pack of them-made of tattoo ink and pain, memory and loss. It was the only thing about her that ever stayed the same. Her story begins on a train.

I was invited to a blogger tea earlier this year to meet Ryan Graudin and hear all about her upcoming book. I left feeling super excited to read it, and so I should have – Wolf By Wolf is now one of my favourite books of the year.

Wolf By Wolf is set in 1956, Germany – or, Germania, Capital of the Third Reich. It has been 10 years since the Third Reich and Imperial Japan won the Second World War. As a young child, Yael was experimented on in Auschwitz and she developed the incredible ability to transform her appearance. As a teenager, she is a member of a determined rebel group. Yael is on a mission: to join the famous Axis Tour, a treacherous motorcycle race across the world, from Berlin to Tokyo – with one aim. She must win the race, dance with Hitler at the Victors’ ball – and kill him.

Wolf By Wolf is a clever and impressive combination of alternate history and fantasy. Ryan Graudin clearly did a lot of research, yet it never feels like a history lesson – only one girl’s thrilling attempt to seek revenge on those who destroyed her life. Yael is a brave and intelligent heroine, and one I was supporting all the way. She has five tattooed wolves, each one a memory of someone she has lost. To enter the race, Yael alters her appearance to mimic blonde-haired, blue-eyed Adele Wolfe, the only previous female Victor. I loved discovering Yael’s past and the story behind each of the wolves. Wolf By Wolf seamlessly moves between the Yael’s heartbreaking backstory as a frightened young girl to her exhilarating and dangerous present as she pretends to be Germany’s most famous female rider.

As the race progressed, I was on edge to discover whether Yael would complete her mission, especially as she began to develop relationships with her fellow riders, and make enemies of some. I sat in a tube station and refused to leave until I reached the end because I couldn’t bear to put it down. Wolf By Wolf throws us into the dusty path of a stunning, fast-paced and well-written journey. All I wanted to do upon finishing was tell other people about it. Even if you’re not usually into contemporary historical fiction or fantasy, this will be one book that a lot of people will be talking about this autumn, so don’t miss out. I’ll definitely be picking up her first book, The Walled City, soon!

Published: 20th October 2015 (US) 5th November 2015 (UK)
Publisher: Little, Brown Book for Young Readers (US) Indigo (UK)
Pages: 400
Source: Thank you to the publisher for providing this book for review!

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Book Review: War Girls by Various

Behold the Pretty Books!

Shelved: Young adult fiction (historical)
Rating: ★★★★
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

I first came across War Girls when my friend Jim asked me to be part of Countdown to 5th June – an epic month-long blog tour celebrating June releases – and I saw that it was one of the books published on that date. I had the opportunity to interview the lovely Sally Nicholls, author of Going Spare, as part of the tour, so definitely check that out!

War Girls is a collection of nine short stories that tackle a fascinating part of history – the women who were directly involved in the First World War and the women who stayed behind, left to live among poverty, fear and grief. I find that although there’s plenty of young adult (and children’s) literature on the Second World War, there’s not as much on the First, so I think it’s fantastic that publishers haven’t given up on bringing this still relevant piece of history to young people. War Girls‘ authors include Adèle Geras, Melvin Burgess, Berlie Doherty, Mary Hooper, Anne Fine, Matt Whyman, Theresa Breslin, Sally Nicholls, and Rowena House – an incredible array of talent – and it provides something a little different for the centenary of the First World War, which began 100 years ago in July 1914.

I’ve mentioned before that my relationship with short stories is a strained one, but surprisingly for me, I enjoyed every story in War Girls. They are all wonderfully diverse, well-written and each tell a different side of the First World War. We think of certain images when we think of the World War I, but it’s easy to forget that there was no universal experience except for grief and loss. War Girls delves into the lives of all very different women of varied backgrounds and who occupy different places on the social hierarchy, from the farmer girl who will do everything she can to stop her land being taken – and what this has to do with the Spanish Flu – to 16-year-old who begins her new job – when women weren’t previously encouraged to – as a waitress on London’s Strand, only to discover that she has a much bigger job to do. We meet Merle and Grace as they fight for the right to be taken seriously and a woman who has nothing else to lose amidst the Battle of Gallipoli.

If you’ve yet to read much young adult literature on the First World War – or if you’re in the mood to head back to the past – pick up War Girls this July!

Published: 5th June 2014
Publisher: Andersen Press
Pages: 272
Source: Thank you to the publisher for providing this book for review