Blog Archives

Somewhere Close to Happy by Lia Louis – Blog Tour Book Review

Book cover with letter

Synopsis

Lizzie James is happy.

She has a steady office job (with a steady stream of snacks), has had the same best friend since school, and she sees her family ever Thursday night for take-away and trashy TV, Lizzie likes her uncomplicated life.

Then a letter arrives one day from her first love, Roman. A letter dated the day he disappeared, 12 years before. As Lizzie uncovers the secrets of the letter, she discovers what really happened the year her life fell apart – and all avenues lead back to Roman.

Lizzie James thought she was happy, or somewhere close to happy, at least. Now she’s not so sure.

About the Author

Lia Louis is a writer from Hertfordshire where she lives with her partner and three young children. In 2015, she won ELLE magazine’s annual talent competition with her contemporary love letter, #RelationshipGoals. Lia’s fascination with letters doesn’t stop with her writing: she also has a varied collection of old letters which are a source of inspiration to her. Somewhere Close to Happy is her first novel. Lia can be found tweeting at @LisforLia.

What I Thought

This debut novel hit the sweet spot for me with a tender YA style first love and a gradual unpicking of a mystery later in life.

Lizzie thinks she’s moved on and moved past what happened when Roman disappeared but the delivery of his twelve year old letter opens those wounds and there’s only one way to heal them. She needs the truth.

Her best friend Priscilla has been with her since school, through her time at The Grove (the mental health unit where she met Roman), the year he left and now she’s the Sherlock to her Watson. I loved the female friendships in this book, most notably between Lizzie and Priscilla but also with Katie, her sister-in-law. There was one scene where Katie’s support had me fist pumping.

Of course Somewhere Close to Happy also represents the fauxships too, in all their agonising false niceties.

The novel flicks forward and back in time and this gradual unfurling of the story of first love and first loss is deftly handled, it had me so invested. I wanted to hug young Lizzie and young Roman in particular.

With hugely honest and accurate mental health portrayal, that comes from the author’s authentic experience. The experience of anxiety and panic pulses from the page. Also the hurt of one’s experience not being validated is raw and the, “she’s being a teenager”, “she’s just being awkward”, comments show how much more awareness is needed. The family relationships in this story are complex, some good (Hubble – sweet Hubble), some complex (Mum and Dad) and some downright 🤬 (Auntie who Shall be named – see what I did there!).

This story just feels so real, so bittersweet and the writing just had me hooked. I needed to know what happened. Lizzie goes on a journey, and the outcome is one of self understanding and growth. The moments when she quietly and calmly is able to state what she needs are powerful.

As a personal note there is something that happens with Priscilla (no spoilers) that I hope becomes Louis’ second novel, because I know this author has the sensitivity to write that empathetically. I’d also love to spend more time with these characters.

Trigger warning for mental health, suicide, drug addiction and abortion.

Somewhere Close to Happy is out on Thursday.

Thank you to Alex and Orion for the review copy #gifted for the purposes of an honest review. I loved it.

This review is part of a blog tour, do check out what everyone else thought on the other stops.

Advertisements

Guardians of the Wild Unicorns by Lindsay Littleson – Book Review

I recently hosted a guest post from author Lindsay Littleson, which you can read here. I’ve now read Guardians of the Wild Unicorns and am back with my review.

Synopsis

Lewis is cold, wet and miserable on his school residential trip in the Highlands of Scotland. The last thing he expects to see is a mythical creature galloping across the bleak moorland. Unicorns aren’t real… are they?

Lewis and his best friend Rhona find themselves caught up in a dangerous adventure to save the world’s last herd of wild unicorns. Fighting against dark forces, battling the wild landscape, and harnessing ancient magic, can they rescue the legendary creatures in time?

Author

Lindsay Littleson is a primary school teacher in Renfrewshire, Scotland. After taking up writing for children in early 2014, she won the Kelpies Prize for new Scottish writing for children with her first children’s novel, The Mixed-Up Summer of Lily McLean.

What I Thought

I loved this book. Particularly the realistic friendship between Lewis and Rhona.

It starts with poor Lewis dangling from a cliff on a school adventure trip. Except he’d much rather be inside with a good book – I’m with him there! His best friend Rhona is much more adventurous and is trying to bolster his confidence, leading to a line that gave me an image that made me snort laugh. And when you are dangling an inch away from death your life flashes before your eyes or unicorns do!?

Chapters are told alternately from Lewis’ and Rhona’s points of view and cleverly enable the reader to see their inner insecurities. But we also see how they both keep these from, and share them with the other, over the course of them working together and building even more trust in each other.

The conservation storyline is really important and I think that using mythological creatures highlights their rarity and increases the suspense. The children have to outwit some very misguided and/or nasty characters to prevent the unicorn’s re-extinction. This would make an excellent book for class discussion on conservation as well as being a gripping and human story. It also deals with themes such as anxiety and young carers and will speak to children that may not fully see themselves in the many overly brave and outgoing books characters there are.

The use of the Scottish setting and smattering of dialect was a great touch and the publisher DiscoverKelpies is focused on publishing books with a Scottish twist. It is amazing how reading about books set near you or to places you’ve been can add to the magic.

I will leave you with the fact that a group of unicorns is called a blessing. As was reading this book.

Thank you to Kirsten at Floris Books/Discover Kelpies who #gifted me the copy of Guardians of the Wild Unicorns used for this honest review and again to Lindsay for the earlier Guest Post.

Double Felix by Sally Harris – Blog Tour Book Review

Today’s Middle Grade book title is published by WackyBee Books and is a story that taps into the current push to gain a greater understanding of mental health, particularly in boys.

Synopsis

He skips every second step when he takes the stairs, taps door handles twice and positions objects in pairs. The problem has become so bad that Felix is on the verge of being expelled from school because the principal has had enough of trying to run the school around his very specific rules. Then Charlie Pye arrives and turns his world upside down. She’s grown up with very few rules. She eats cereal for lunch, calls a boat home, and has a very loose interpretation of school uniform. The question is, can Felix ever learn to be wrong when he is so obsessed with being right?

Author

Sally Harris grew up in rural Australia and after graduating from Cambridge with a degree in Children’s Literature, Sally has been busy writing and working as a primary teacher in both Australia and the UK. Her first book Diary of a Penguin-Napper, sold over 10,000 copies and her second book Ruby Marvellous, has inspired children all over the world to try their hand at cooking exploding finger buns! Sally loves animals, including penguins, but as she can’t have one of those as a pet, she has found that a dog is definitely the next best thing.

Illustrator

Maria Serrano was born in Murcia, Spain where she still lives and works. After completing her BA in Arts at Complutense University in Madrid, she went on to illustrate children’s books for several Spanish publishers, all of which are still available to buy at bookshops in Spain. In the UK she has worked with Oxford University Press, Pearson Education and Templar books amongst others. She is represented by the Plum Pudding agency.

What I Thought

We join Felix’s story when he is already reliant on rules and patterns and he is in the midst of those being challenged. It has got to a stage where it is affecting his daily life, his ability to deal with change and to engage with other children.

As well as being introduced to the new girl at school Charlie, Felix’s latest episode means that he is sent to see the school counsellor who starts to work with him on addressing his anxieties.

I loved how the story focused on the introduction of these new characters into Felix’s life and how they both help Felix, and those around him to see things differently. Felix’s difficulties are spoken about in every day language that children would understand and I love the analogy the counsellor comes up with of ‘Basil the Bully’. I think this would be a great book for any child experiencing anxiety to read to maybe start off a discussion with parents or school staff. Or indeed it would make a great classroom read to explore with children how we can support others who see the world differently.

Both Felix and Charlie are fun characters and I loved following their growing friendship. They felt very authentic to their age.

Author Sally very cleverly introduces common anxiety provoking incidents into Felix’s life – some that are everyday (playing with other children at break times) and others that are often out of anyone’s control (substitute teachers who don’t know you, medical problems affecting those we love). And these scenarios help him begin to see how to deal with the uncertainty that life throws at us.

The illustrations by Maria really bring the story and Felix’s thoughts to life and I particularly loved the Rool Boy comic which was an adorable way for Charlie to share her understanding with Felix.

The story comes across as very realistic with no quick fix, no perfect ending but a hopeful journey. Check out the structure of the contents page which also forms part of the story.

It is worth noting that the book is set in Australia and schools in the UK are set up differently. In fact children and adolescent mental health services are generally under too much demand and there is pressure for schools to focus on academic achievement. This means that when children with mental health or social learning challenges (such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Anxiety, Depression, ADHD etc) are achieving academically despite them having social and behavioural challenges they are not readily able to access additional support.

As an Occupational Therapist I see a huge potential role for OTs to be employed within schools addressing this more generally. Charlie even introduces Felix to an occupation that she thinks will help his anxiety. I sense a future fabulous OT in that character. One of my OT friends is exploring a PhD on this topic and I’ll definitely share this book with her, and also with friends who might have children experiencing similar challenges.

Today is the start of the blog tour. Do check out the other stops for reviews and author content.

%d bloggers like this: