Raven Winter

Raven Winter
Susanna Bailey

Having enjoyed both Snow Foal and Otter’s Moon I was anticipating another treat with Raven Winter and was not disappointed. Susanna’s lyrical prose sweeps you away from the start but with themes of domestic abuse, coercive control, hurt, and loneliness this is anything but a comfortable read despite the sensitivity with which difficult issues are presented.

The story is told from the viewpoint of Billie whose father is in prison and whose mother has allowed her new man, Daniel, to move into their flat making life a misery not only for the girl but also her Mam.
Eventually Billie decides that her life has become unbearable (Dad’s letters have stopped coming months back, but she doesn’t believe he’s stopped loving her) and she decides to run away. But then she finds a badly injured raven in the woods where she goes to feel closer to her Dad. She takes the bird home to care for it endangering herself and forcing her to defer her plans but in so doing she finds hope. Hope in the form of letters which her mum must have kept from her, with an address that she’s never before seen. This increases her determination to find her Dad, but now she’s even more conflicted inside.

Meanwhile Bille has met Nell, also something of a loner, who lives nearby with her Nan. At first Billie brushes aside her approaches but little by little a bond develops between the two girls.

There are many strands to this powerful story and binding them together is a celebration of nature and its power to heal: what the author has achieved is a fine balance between sadness and beauty. Not everything is resolved but father and daughter are reunited and there’s hope for the future. There’s also a reassuring message to any reader in a situation similar to Billie about the importance of going to a trusted adult for help.

The Very Merry Murder Club

The Very Merry Murder Club
edited by Serena Patel & Robin Stevens, illustrated by Harry Woodgate

This bumper collection of wintry mysteries wasn’t quite the novel I originally anticipated.. Rather it brings together stories by thirteen authors: Elle McNicoll, Roopa Farooki, Annabelle Sami, Abiola Bello, Patrice Lawrence, Maisie Chan, Dominique Valente, Nizrana Farook, Benjamin Dean, Joanna Williams, Serena Patel, E.L. Norry, and Sharna Jackson.

Only some of the tales are of murders: the first, set in Inverness, tells of a ballerina’s death, which, main character Briar, an underestimated autistic girl, is determined to show was the result of foul play.
Another murder (also taking place in a hotel) is Nizrana Farook’s ‘Scrabble’ mystery narrated by young Saba, a member of the Hassan family who are on their way to spend the Christmas holiday with Grandma. However an impassible road results in an overnight stop in an isolated hotel an hour away from their destination, and that’s where another guest is discovered stone dead after a game of Scrabble.

Other Christmas tales involve theft, sabotage and a Christmas Eve visit to a very weird funhouse that really sends shivers down your spine.

However if you want to be really chilled, then turn to Dominique Valente’s The Frostwilds which is a fantasy set in an icy-cold world wherein children’s lives are under constant threat from the mysterious Gelidbeast.

It’s impossible in a short review to mention every story but suffice it to say that with a wealth of interesting and determined, often brave protagonists, settings modern and historic, as well as invented, there’s sure to be something for everyone to puzzle over and enjoy, especially snuggled up warm with a hot chocolate and a mince pie close at hand.

Harry Woodgate’s black and white illustrations (one per story) are splendid – full of detail and there’s also a clever ‘book cover’ that serves an a visual introduction to each one:

Be sure to look under the book’s dust jacket where a colourful surprise awaits.

Happy Narwhalidays

Happy Narwhalidays
Ben Clanton

It’s holiday time in this, the fifth instalment in the series starring the delightful duo, Narwhal and Jelly as they consume warm waffles, do some singing while swimming and eagerly anticipate the coming of the Merry Mermicorn. In case like Jelly you’re wondering what that might be here’s Narwhal’s description of her …

We meet the friends in several scenarios including The Perfect Present wherein Jelly makes a discovery and then spends ages racking his brain over the perfect present for Narwhal.

Then comes The Mean Green Jelly Bean, a story the friends co-write and illustrate about a unappealing sentient jelly bean. This sour being is, in its own words, flavoured like ‘pickle-scum snail-slime puree’ and unsurprisingly not to every one’s taste, but is it to anyone’s?

As per usual in this funky series, sandwiched between the events are some facts on ocean life – in this instance of the particularly ‘cool’ kind; and underlining the kindness theme, the book ends with a rendition of The Merry Mermicorn Song. (the friends’ version of ‘We wish you a merry Christmas’)

Perfect for new solo readers at this time of year are these delectably daft seasonal diversions of Clanton’s underwater pals, one ever the optimist, the other, decidedly not.