Happy Book Birthday to The White Phoenix. This is Catherine Randall’s debut novel, a historical middle grade story.
About the Book
London, 1666. After the sudden death of her father, thirteen-year-old Lizzie Hopper and her mother must take over THE WHITE PHOENIX – the family bookshop in the shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral. But England is at war with France and dire prophecies abound. As rumours of invasion and plague spread, Lizzie battles prejudice, blackmail and mob violence to protect the bookshop she loves. When the Great Fire of London breaks out, Lizzie must rescue more than just the bookshop. Can she now save the friend she wasn’t supposed to have? CAN THE WHITE PHOENIX RISE FROM THE ASHES?
About the Author
Catherine Randall was brought up in Shropshire but has lived in London since graduating from St Catherine’s College, Oxford with a degree in Modern History. Catherine worked as an editor in book publishing before taking a break to bring up her family. She took a Master’s in Children’s Literature at the University of Roehampton, writing a novella for teens as part of her dissertation. Now living in southwest London, she is known in her local area as the writer of two history plays (The Teddington Review and Letters from the Front) performed in 2017 and 2018. As a result of her research for The White Phoenix, Catherine takes workshops about the Great Fire of London into primary schools. She is passionate about encouraging reading and volunteers with the charity Prisoners’ Reading Groups. She is currently working on her second novel.
What I Thought
If you know anything about me you will know that I love books about books and book lovers so when I realised The White Phoenix was a story about a bookshop I was immediately sold.
Our protagonist Lizzie and her mother take over the family bookshop – The White Phoenix and they have to fend off prejudice, sinister suitors, plague and The Great Fire of London!
This book transported me to my childhood and it gave me the same feeling I had reading or watching stories like The Railway Children, The Sound of Music, Pollyanna, Heidi, Little Women, and the early scenes in Great Expectations. There is a strong cast of characters from headstrong Lizzie to *makes me shudder* Mr Pedley.
I loved the detail included about the book binding process and oddly enough I know an artist – who also uses Phoenix in their shop name – who binds/rebinds books. The love that this process shows for the books makes me feel warm inside and I’m certainly glad that publishers and sellers are making more effort with their books bindings. Of course the front cover of The White Phoenix has to include some gold foiling to make it extra special.
There is human drama a plenty that starts for poor Lizzie straight away and there are ominous threats both seemingly far away and much closer to home. The constant mentions of the Plague feel very apt with our current situation. St Paul’s is there too, looming and an omen if you know anything about 1666.
So will Lizzie and the books survive the great fire? You will have to read to find out.
I want to know which book would you save in a fire? You can choose only one.
I was gifted a copy via Kaleidoscopic Tours for the purposes of an honest review.
It’s my spot on the Lost for Words #bookstagram tour organised by @darkroomtours today and I thought I’d share my review here too.
Dallas’s life was turned upside down the day her mum was killed in a traffic accident. Now she lives with her brothers, step-sister and her mum’s partner Gemma in a too-small house filled with bickering and grief. As the end of primary school approaches, Dallas learns that the local library has run out of funding and will soon be closing. Dallas decides she cannot let another thing she loves be lost. Together with her friends Aiza and Ruby, and her freewheeling American aunt Jessi, she starts a campaign to save the library for everyone.
A beautifully told tale about family, grief and growing up.
Aoife Walsh lives in Oxford with three nice children, a nice fellow and a sweet cat. Her previous books are Look After Me and Too Close To Home. Like Lost For Words they are about families, but then in her opinion hardly any families are the same, whatever Tolstoy reckons.
What I Thought
Although eleven year old Dallas takes on the council in her attempt to save the local library this is really a story about family. And Dallas’ family has been rocked by tragedy.
This story is told from Dallas’ point of view and through her we explore grief, challenging family dynamics, friendship and a dabbling in politics. From her very first school debate on Brexit 😂, to her clashes with the council, Dallas grows in confidence – but will it be enough?
This is a middle grade story but with Dallas on the verge of leaving primary school and moving up to secondary school. With the arrival of her aunt Jessi from Texas she is offered an even bigger move, and when you feel like the spare tyre in your family, feeling wanted is very comforting.
After her mum’s death, partner Gemma is left in charge and she’s got a job, two 4 year olds (one with autism), an 18 year old and Dallas to contend with, all within the confines of a small house on the river. The sense of lack of space is expressed well and I love how Dallas uses this to express why libraries are so important, even though she hasn’t used hers for months.
The dynamic between Dallas and her two best friends, Ruby and Aiza is an escape for her. They have a few adventures, challenging bullies, walking the line between becoming bullies themselves, a trip to London gone wrong. I particularly liked the scenes where Ruby asks Aiza more about her Muslim Faith after hearing negative comments at home. I love that the girls are able to have this dialogue. I would definitely be interested in reading stories from each of their perspectives too. Ruby in particular is so quiet, whilst I’m sure she has lots to say. Neither of these girls has the most stable home life but they look after each other, and also have the ability to be honest with each other too. This is a great example of female friendship.
I highly recommend this read, it’s empowering for kids to be shown how to stand up for something and Aoife Walsh has written a dynamic and imperfect family or three. I really hope to read more about these girls.
Lost for Words is released this Thursday – 4th July. Goodreads link.
Thanks to Darkroom Tours and Anderson Press for gifting me the copy of this book for the purposes of an honest review.
Do check out the rest of the tour stops
It was a stupid, insane, suicidal idea. Which makes it quite hard to explain why I decided to help. I guess it boils down to this. Charlie was my best friend. I missed him. And I couldn’t think of anything better to do. Really stupid reasons which were never going to impress the police, the headmistress or my parents.
Looking back, I reckon this was the moment when my whole life started to go pear shaped.
Mark Haddon is the author of bestselling novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. boom! was originally published as Gridzbi Spudvetch! in 1992 with this rewritten version published in 2009.
What I Thought
boom! Is a fun, pacy middle grade where Jimbo (James) and his friend Charlie discover something unusual when they bug the teacher’s staff room at school. With echoes of the Demon Headmaster it is up to them to uncover the nefarious plot. Then Charlie goes missing. Older sister Becky turns out to care more than she lets on, and the two of them head off on her boyfriend’s motorbike to discover what goes boom!
Very much of its original age there is some gender stereotyping that is perhaps a little unhelpful at times but Jimbo is a likeable little imp and you want him to triumph.
Jimbo and Charlie have a fun friendship. The adults are most definitely comic relief. Charlie’s mum is a little extreme!
Full of adventure and humour with the kids most definitely in charge.