A few of my favourite things…

2021 was a year of many ups and downs but amidst the chaos, here are a few of the books that kept me going.

1. The Adventures on Trains series

The incredible ‘Adventures on Trains’ series by MG Leonard and Sam Sedgman keeps going from strength to strength

Reasons I love this series:

  1. How reliably readable each book is – real pageturners that throw you headfirst into the action from the get go.
  2. The evolution of Hal and Uncle Nat as characters. The central duo are slowly becoming more complex and their backstories more fleshed out as the series continues.
  3. The heightened stakes – with each new book, the tension is cranked a little higher.
  4. Being immersed into a train lover’s world. I certainly wouldn’t count myself as a railhead but I have loved learning about the different trains and their routes. Fascinating!
  5. Last and by no means least, the incredible illustrations by Elisa Paganelli that have evolved with each book and which mirror protagonist Harrison’s drawing style. They are always integral to the detective process and I couldn’t imagine the series without them.

Frankly, this series is a masterclass in How To Write Middle Grade and I always have the next installment pre-ordered from the wonderful Book Nook in Hove as soon as they’re announced.

2. The wonderful writing of Lucy Strange

Just one of Lucy Strange’s masterpieces

My love affair with Lucy Strange’s writing began with ‘Our Castle By The Sea’, a creeping, murky kind of WW2 story about a girl whose mother is accused of being a German spy. I’ve since gone on to read the incredible Secret of Nightingale Wood and the recent Sisters of the Lost Marsh.

Lucy’s writing is always earthy – grounded in a rich, evocative sense of place with a lingering sense of loss, distress or longing. Whilst her settings are often liminal, her protagonists are usually girls on the cusp too, whether that is the cusp of adolescence, the blurred line between girlhood and womanhood, half German/half English or haunted girls with a foot in the imaginative or remembered worlds. Frankly, I can’t get enough of her work! I’ve kept ‘The Ghost of Gosswater’ back for early 2022!

3. The Chime Seekers by Ross Montgomery

Montgomery is such an accomplished storyteller.

This is a book I would LOVE to be able to write.

I am in awe of Ross Montgomery. He really is a master plotter. In ‘The Chime Seekers’, he has crafted the perfect narrative: fast paced, tightly plotted with incredible hooks at the end of every chapter.

I also particularly loved the sidekick character, Amy, whose geekiness was definitely a superpower!

4. ‘Julia and the Shark’ – Kiran Milwood Hargraves

A beauty to treasure
Such a talented woman!

I could talk about the creative genius of Kiran Milwood Hargraves all day! ‘Julia and the Shark’ is a rare beauty of a book, layering Milwood Hargraves’ gorgeous poetic prose with Tom de Freston’s incredible designs. I found myself really staring at this book and staying up late to really linger on just one more page…

I’ve read several of KMH’s beautiful books but this one really spoke to me. Julia’s mother is mentally ill and the intensity of her love and fascination for the Greenland shark really spoke to me.

Final words…

With the blessing of a new baby and the pressures and joys of teaching, writing my own book and launching my writing career, I haven’t had much time to read this year. I hope I can read more in 2022 and I am also hereby giving myself permission to DNF or put aside books that don’t give me what I need. I read for pleasure, to escape, to imagine, to wonder…and precious reading time shouldn’t be laborious or frustrating. There are too many beautiful books to discover for that!

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