Review – Haze (The Rephaim #2) – Paula Weston

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When I was a kid I used to hate that part of books in a series where the author would recap the events of the previous book/s. All I wanted was to get back into a world that I loved and knew well. As someone now with more books and less time on her hands, I often wish for more of a recap, because I just don’t have the time to go back and revisit the first (or in some cases first five) books in a series. Goodness knows what on earth I’ll do when Isobelle Carmody releases the last Obernewtyn book – I’ll be rereading the series for an entire year!

So for the first few pages of Haze I felt like I was stumbling into a darkened room, looking for a light switch. It didn’t take long though, for the memories to come rushing back – reminding me how I’d loved the first book, and remembering where I’d last left Rafa, Meg, and the ballsy Gaby Winters.

Paula Weston hasn’t let the ball drop in the sequel to the hugely successful Shadows. Everything I loved from the first book – the cleverness, the mythology, and of course the romance, are all still here. The tensions between the various ‘levels’ (for want of a better word) of angels are heightened here in the sequel, and lines are blurred as the sparring sides are forced to work together in parts, but are immediately at war again in others. Gaby too is pulled in more directions, as she discovers more and more about her past, but is therefore faced with even more questions about her identity and her loyalties. And of course the tension between Gaby and Rafa, already sizzling in Shadows, is volcanic in Haze. 

These are two strong steps into what Cath Crowley calls a ‘sexy, smart and addictive’ series. From the hoardes of washed up paranormal romances, this is one that I will continue to pull from the shelves as it progresses.

Feeling our way

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Nearly four months has passed since I became a ‘mum’ to someone! There is so much packed into this tiny word – so much weight in the six kilos that I now carry around daily. It has been amazing to see this tiny person – so like all the other babies at first – become so different, so mine.

There’s the tiny expressions and noises that mean nothing to anyone but me, and the excitement that comes with each First. All mum’s will know what I mean.

We’ve been reading since day one (much more religiously I should add than remembering to take our daily dose of Vitamin D – oops!), and while we’re still reading everything from chapter books (storytime), rhymes (and silly songs made out of desperation) to picture story board books, our favourites of all at the moment are by far the touch and feel, and the interactive cloth books. Why? Because two months ago when I started reading Tails (pictured above) to my little boy I would lift his hands and put his fingers on the fluffy or the scratchy bits to show him how they felt. A month later he amazed me by reaching out to touch a scratchy tigers nose. Four short/long weeks after that and he’s trying to turn pages, reaching out for his favourite bits (still the scratchy tigers nose in this, but also some shiny peacock feathers, some crinkly curtains in a That’s Not My Kitten cloth book, and some colourful tags on a flag in a Spot cloth book). It’s extraordinary.

Matthew Van Fleet (author of Tails, Five Fuzzy Ducklings, Sniff, Lick, Dogs and Cats) is by far my favourite of the touch and feel authors out there. For tiny fingers they’re all good provided the touchy bits are different and obvious (colourful, fluffy, big enough patches and so on), but as the reader, it’s nice to have at least something of a story to be able to read along to. Plus as they get older these ones are great for introducing shapes, numbers and names of animals. AND there are some tabs/pully sections, which are made extra thick – so I’m hoping that they’ll make it through the avalanche of dribble that is sure to come their way.

Regardless of which books you pick though, I can’t recommend these interactive pages for those tiny hands and brains. As a parent, it’s so special to really be able to see those minute changes as fingers reach out to scratch favourite pages and as a child it’s a way of engaging with the idea of books nice and early – getting into the habit of turning those pages, of loving them, of wanting to look at them, of knowing that there’s something magical in them. Start early enough and it’s a feeling that will never go away.

Review – Wildlife – Fiona Wood

I was sad to have missed the launch for this as it’s one I’d been looking to for ages. Still, I’m happy to have had the opportunity to review a copy, albeit a tad late!

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Readers familiar with Fiona’s first book Six Impossible Things will remember Lou, who takes one part of the narrative in Wildlife. The other is taken by newcomer, sixteen-year-old Sibylla. Sibylla is exactly the kind of non-threatening narrator that brings out the protectiveness of readers, pulling them instantly onside. She’s the nerdy, shy outcast, hovering on the periphery of groups and cliques and only ever dragged to social events by the firm hand of her best friend Holly. However after being transformed from plain Jane into a glamorous billboard model, Sibylla arrives at the school’s outdoor education camp amid a buzz of gossip. Added to her new status is tantalising promise of what could be – a kiss from popular Ben Capaldi that might turn into something more.

Enter Lou, still holding tightly to the loss of her beloved Fred. She joins Sibylla, Ben and Holly as they head off for their term away – where they’ll learn to survive the wilderness and hopefully each other.

Lou and Sibylla are standout characters with crystal clear voices. Where some dual narrative stories are muddy and confusing, there’s no need for chapter headers to differentiate between these two – they speak so independently, it’s completely obvious when each one takes hold of the story.

First love, changing friendships, identity, grief and acceptance are all concentrated in the claustrophobic camp setting. For Sibylla there’s no escaping the growing number of cracks in her friendship with Holly or the realities of her new/first love. Lou is confronted with her own grief – forced (despite her best efforts to the contrary) to rediscover her own identity and take the risk of new friendships.

While the dramatic turbulence of being a teenager/falling in love/finding friendships/accepting yourself is nothing new in the world of YA fiction (or to anyone who made it through high school), Fiona Wood writes about them with a fresh clarity. The relationships aren’t overdone, the drama isn’t the stuff of daytime soaps. Instead the relationships, the dramas and the outcomes feel genuine.

Wildlife could well be about the lives of any teenagers I’ve met or in fact my own. I’ve never spent a term at an outdoor ed camp (and frankly I shudder at the thought!), but the story is authentic and familiar and it takes no time at all to become attached to Lou and Sibylla as they brave the wilderness.

Writing, reading, children.

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It’s been a while. I’ve read some stuff (reviews pending). I’ve written (some). I’ve started studying (something totally new – nutrition!). Oh, and I had a baby.

That was pretty full on, and 3 months later my body still hasn’t quite forgiven me the ordeal, however being a mum is the most wonderful thing I’ve ever done. It’s broken everything I thought I could or couldn’t do, and has made me more aware of myself than I ever thought I could be.

I’ll be re-jigging the blog soon – so that there’s a space for tiny people books, for writing, for thinking, for YA stuff, and possibly some space for food thoughts. But for now I’ll just keep plugging stuff up as I write it, and if you feel like reading (or commenting) then I’d love to hear from you!

I’m back to writing a page a day – just random things, as well as devoting some daily time to the much neglected manuscript. So today’s page ‘FLASH FLOOD’.

The flood waters rose but I wasn’t there so I didn’t see them.

It was on Friday night. A storm, a crack of thunder, the steady drum of rain on the roof. I could hear the water splashing over the edges of the shitty gutters when I went to the bathroom and when I cleaned my teeth. I could see flashes of lightening from behind the blinds hanging on the pointless side windows as I lay in bed. But I didn’t see the flood. Not until the next morning anyway. First on facebook. A picture of a flooded bike path that I thought was somewhere else.

Then in person as I walked along the same bike path two days later. The water had gone. You wouldn’t know it had flooded but.

But the reeds (the ones left in the ground) were pushed in one direction. Pointing the way the waters had rushed.

But the flood markers had been ripped out and their concrete stumps pointed uselessly out of the ground.

But there was a tide line of dead grass and scum where the waters had lapped at the playground and the park.

But there were neat piles of reeds around the bases of all of the trees, and a not-so-neat pile on the bench next to the bike path.

But there was a damp overturned couch washed up onto the path.