Sweet Pizza

Sweet Pizza

G.R. Gemin

Nosy Crow

Sweet Pizza is Giancarlo Gemin’s second book. His first, the highly praised Cowgirl, won the Tir Na n-Og Award in 2015 and was nominated for many others. Giancarlo was born in Cardiff to Italian parents.

Sweet Pizza is about a South Wales valley café under threat; Joe’s mam is stuck in a rut – she’s down in the dumps, jaded by the daily grind and is beginning to accept that the café’s days are numbered. Her son Joe, however, has an entrepreneurial spirit like his immigrant ancestors; he is unwilling to accept that the café is a lost cause and has ideas to breathe new life into it and make it the centre of the community once more.

Maybe Joe’s mum is so weary because her dad (Joe’s Nonno) is so unwell – or maybe she’s tired of seeing the jobs, investment and soul being ripped from the valley. Joe is proud of his heritage, proud of his ancestors, and proud of the valley in which he lives.

Throughout the book, we learn more and more of how Joe’s family, like many other Italians in South Wales, came to settle in the area. Joe is getting his Nonno to record the family’s history before the inevitable happens.

The novel reads like a soap opera – a good soap opera, where you get a real insight into the family’s life, getting to grips with their relationships, their fears, their motivations, their triggers, their highs and lows. The characters are very real and you feel their frustrations as well as their joys.

There’s a lot of wit and humour in the book and I adored the depictions of the generous and charismatic people of the valley. The dialogue is full of verve and oomph – the valleys lilt and Italian-Wenglish dialects add to the appeal. More than anything, this book is a warm celebration of that diverse community, coming together to celebrate fellowship, identity and heritage.

Akin to home-cooked Italian food, the narrative is charming, comforting and made with love. But there is also great skill at work here – for something to appear so life affirming and tasty.

 

Alien Rain

Alien Rain

Ruth Morgan

Firefly Press

Ruth Morgan’s Alien Rain is one of the most engrossing novels I have read recently. I begin by apologising to Nina Worm who was late to gymnastics because Mummy Worm was determined to finish this enthralling page-turner!

Bree Aurora, the teenage heroine, lives in Cardiff, Mars. Yes, a cool address and the descriptions of this sci-fi setting are original, convincing (I love the name drops and associations of Cardiff suburbs!) and visually stunning in the choice of detail. Bree has a gift for Empathy, which is one of the “soft subjects” in her top ranking school, and is the last person expected to be chosen for the prestigious trip to Earth. Humanity, as we know it, has been eradicated but the details of this final war are kept tantalisingly hidden until late in the novel.

Love-hate relationships simmer through the plot with ingenious machinery, apocalyptic Salvador Dali-esque imagery and physical and emotional journeys aplenty. There is something for everyone here, certainly Science Fiction in the truest sense, but at the core is a teenager who discovers self worth. There are pages where Morgan alludes to the horror genre and grips you in an icy embrace with the terror of the unknown. Just as convincing and one of my lasting impressions is the awe and wonder of the beauty of Mother Earth, “with its scary out-of-control lushness and fecundity” and Bree’s longing to be accepted on “this mystifying, rich and diverse planet”. The brilliance of this novel is that you journey not only through space but also through time and are left with a greater appreciation of our natural history – as well as an intense desire to spend longer in the “Origins of Earth” section of the Cardiff Museum!

There is so much more to praise here and I hope that Ruth Morgan has more in store for us. My advice to anyone looking for a Sci-Fi adventure is to step out and get themselves soaked in “Alien Rain”.

 

We are grateful to Firefly Press for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Gaslight

Gaslight
Eloise Williams
Firefly Press

Gaslight is incredibly rich in detail – full of vivid descriptions of a grimy Victorian underworld. You can taste, smell and feel the sooty Cardiff backstreets with every page turn.

The story tells of Nansi, a young girl in constant conflict with villainous theatre owner Sid (a Dickensian fiend and devilishly corrupt master) as she tries to uncover the whereabouts of her mother. It’s a hard life – split between bit parts on the Empire Theatre stage and thieving from rich households, all the time dreaming of being able to find her own identity and free herself from the perilous life she leads.

Whilst the portrait is bleak, the characters zing and sparkle with life – Nansi is bold, feisty and independent; Sid is menacing, evil and intimidating (there was cheering and much jumping on beds when we read of his comeuppance!) This is absolute testimony to the skill of the author: Eloise Williams received a Literature Wales Writer’s Bursary to produce this book and they should be very well pleased “to Barry and back” as they’ve had more than their money’s worth.

The tale is brutal too as descriptions and suggestions of death, incarceration, and ill-treatment are not shirked from; and in the final few pages of Gaslight, as Nansi is poring over a selection of beloved books, the strong female lead declares that children’s books are often censored and made more palatable so the audience will not be scared, and we sense that this may be the author’s voice, standing up for the raw, real and gripping tale that she has produced.

I loved it and heartily recommend to mature readers age 10 and up.

Between the Raven and the Dove

Between The Raven and The Dove

Sophia Kingshill

Accent Press

Reviewed by Mummy Worm

Take a sassy young black teenager, place her on a modern-day island governed by ancient competing forces, pour in a spoonful of self discovery and then sprinkle a generous handful of musical magic over the top: the result is this delicious new novel, the first of a series for Young Adults.

Through the protagonist, Margot, Sophia Kingshill has managed a feat of magic herself: the creation of a girl in the first throws of adolescence whose no-nonsense persona will appeal to boys and girls alike.

The landscape is a familiar cocktail for supernatural novels: forest, school of witchcraft, secret urban base but the twist is that Margot has grown up in a home for the mentally ill. The in-patients (known as the Residence’s name ‘The Hollies’) are lovingly crafted individuals, and you can’t help but smile as you read about their quirks. I hope they will make a re-appearance in the next book. Other characters warm the heart (Humph the Hob) or send chills down the spine (Nilas) in equal measure. Folklore underpins the narrative and the authenticity of a group of characters from myth and legend known as The Others provide a melting pot of opportunity for the novels to come.

There is much to enjoy here and I look forward to joining Margot in her next mission as she learns more not only about her craft, her parentage and her new friends, but also about how harmony and balance can co-exist in a modern world founded on ancient rites.

Elias Martin

Elias Martin

Nicola Davies / Fran Shum

Graffeg

Elias Martin is a grumpy, lonesome, hard-faced young man who thinks that nature and the wild are conspiring against him. What with deathly blizzards, harsh winters and cruel terrain the only pleasure he gets in the North is skinning the animals that symbolise nature as enemy. He is fighting a “war against life, driven by a lonely darkness in his soul.” Then one day, a young girl mysteriously enters his life and things begin to change. He hears the birdsong, he notices the sunrise, he feels the fire’s warmth. Is Elias’ heart beginning to thaw?

Nicola Davies expertly paints a callous canvas in this short tale, choosing her words meticulously; within paragraphs the scene is set and we are directly placed into the raw reality of an isolated northern province. The writing is atmospheric, intelligent and compelling. Fran Shum’s black and white etching-style illustrations are perfectly suited to this tale and ideally imitate the naive wood carvings of the little girl.

At under 40 pages, it’s a short book, but it packs a punch: Elias Martin has you feeling the landscapes, worrying for the characters and seriously considering our relationship with the wild.

Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth

 

Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth

Frank Cottrell Boyce / Illustrated by Steven Lenton

MacMillan Children’s Books

Reviewed by Noah Worm (Aged 9)

Sputnik is an alien visible as a dog to everyone except Prez; to Prez he is a boy exploring the universe. Here – Steven Lenton shows it much better than I can explain it…

Frank Cottrell Boyce has produced another great page-turner with this book – ideal for Year 4 and up (but Year 3 will love the funny bits). The really funny bits come mostly when people treat Sputnik like a dog, and he replies with sarcasm or disbelief, but they just hear barking. Sputnik’s mission is to make a list of 10 things that make the Earth special.

A bigger story than Sputnik’s search for ten things, is Prez’s search for his Grandad. There are sad parts to the book when Prez discovers his Grandad but we realise that Grandad doesn’t recognise or know who Prez is.

This is an hilarious, often touching novel, full of the greatest storytelling.

Daddy Worm says: I was in bits! Frank Cottrell uses this comic caper to touch on some “grown-up” ideas. I thought it was brilliant and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Perfect

Perfect

Nicola Davies & Cathy Fisher

Graffeg

Reviewed by Nina Worm (aged 8)

A gentle yet sad story about a boy who has a disabled sister. He is upset because his new baby sister cannot run and chase, something he was looking forward to most. However, when a swift drops from the sky, he learned that all it needed was a little help to fly again. So he also helped his little sister and learned to love her.

Nicola Davies does not use many words – it is an easy read – she is very good at animal books and writes expertly about the swifts in this story. Cathy Fisher’s illustration are astonishingly realistic and just ‘perfect’ – so perfect that they have been nominated for this year’s Kate Greenaway Medal.

In my opinion Perfect is a book so beautiful it could make you cry. It is now one of my favourite books by a favourite author – perfect for 7 and 8 year olds.

Daddy Worm says: This is a beautifully produced hardback book – the illustrations and words are in perfect harmony as they work together to reflect the feelings of the brother so well. The result is that the reader can sense the emotion oozing from each lovingly crafted page; children will be able to relate to the boy and be encouraged to empathise with his situation.

Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot

Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot

Horatio Clare

Firefly Press

Reviewed by Noah Worm (aged 9)

This is a really adventurous, different kind of book, unlike any other I’ve read; full of amazing ideas and great drawings that keep you wanting to turn the page. The book is about Aubrey, a “rambunctious child”, an adventurer and determined discoverer with a very free upbringing. The Terrible Yoot is the phrase used to describe depression, which is being suffered by Jim (Aubrey’s dad). He becomes sad, pale, confused and rather lost – “Sometimes he seemed so wispy he might have been made of mist.”

If I make it sound like a miserable book, it’s not! It is a funny and hopeful book about the love between a father and son. It’s also full of talking animals (it’s anthropomorphic!) who guide Aubrey to help him help himself and his dad.

This is Horatio Clare’s first children’s book and I enjoyed it a lot – full of magic and wonder. It has jumped into my top 5 books ever! I would highly recommend it for 9-13 year olds. His next book is out soon and is called Aubrey and the Terrible Spiders. I can’t wait to read it!

 

Daddy Worm says: Very enjoyable with some remarkably adept descriptions. I was initially concerned about how the big D would be portrayed and how Noah would respond – no need; Horatio Clare writes openly and honestly, which is exactly what you want. There is plenty of humour in the book (what with the talking animals and the neighbour who spies on Aubrey’s actions) and plenty of fantasy too (what with the talking animals…) and yet it is a very grounded and relatable story. I loved sharing it with Noah. Highly recommended.