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'Lark' by Anthony McGowan: the first one I read and number 3 on my list, but I'm not sorry it's won at all; it's a super little read. Still plenty of time to read the books and post reviews. The Shadowing group winner will be voted on soon, with that announcement in October, so watch this space!


First up, I read two of the books, very cold adventures! Here's what I think of them.

'Lark' by Anthony McGowan; An adventure set in the Yorkshire Moors based on two characters from his last book, 'Rook'. To be honest, it probably does help if you have read 'Rook', but it's not necessary; the strength of the bond between Nicky and his older brother, who has special needs, is still very strong, and central to the books success. Not giving too much away here, far from home on the North Yorkshire Moors when a blizzard blows up out of the blue, no phone signal and not much of a map... The book follows their adventure, rammed with drama and comedy at times, and it certainly packs a huge emotional punch at the end.

'Nowhere on Earth' by Nick Lake: Another adventure, this time set in a very cold Alaska. Emily and her brother, Aiden, are on the run (read it to find out the reasons). They stowaway on a small postal delivery plane, but it crashes into the side of a mountain. When the 'rescuers' appear, things start to get really dangerous. I love the action sections of the book which are really dealt with well: very difficult to do in writing. Lane foreshadows the twist not too subtly; I got it: wonder if you will. For me, the ending of the book kind of fizzled out; it really didn't deliver the emotional punch of 'Lark', but see what you think. I think a good edit on the last few chapters would have made for a more successful book overall; however, a very enjoyable and tense adventure read nonetheless.

And now I've finished this one- much hotter: the Canaries and Africa!

'Girl, Boy, Sea' by Chris Vick: Again, a good adventure story suitable for all year groups. For just over the first hundred pages, I thought that this was going to be my favourite: a dramatic shipwreck, a boy alone at sea, a miraculous meeting, hardship, ingenuity and some beautifully written imagery of the ocean and the sky. However, then the book began to lose me. I suppose the set-up was very Morpurgo-like: a sort of 'Kensuke's Kingdom', but all at sea. However, I never really got the necessary empathy for the central character and narrator, Bill, which Morpurgo creates so effortlessly, and so I found that I wasn't really invested emotionally in what could be described as the second and third parts of the adventure, but maybe you would disagree; there is certainly still plenty of action and drama. For me, as in 'Nowhere on Earth', the ending did fizzle out a bit. I think a more creative, non-linear approach to this section would have worked better; again, in my view, a good bit of editing required, but still an enjoyable read overall: just not a life-changer!

BY THE WAY, if you live in the Wingham area, I have personal copies of 'Lark' and 'Nowhere on Earth' if you would like me to pop one through your door. Just email me at and I'll see what I can do, confinement permitting. 

'Lampie' by Annet Schaap: Definitely my favourite so far. I'm a bit of a sucker for magic realism, and this book has a well-balanced dose of both. Lampie's life is tough. Her father, still in mourning for his wife, Lampie's mother, two years after her death, and struggling to come to terms with his disability, turns to drink and violence. Lampie is essentially his slave, fulfilling his role as lighthouse keeper and household chores- but the household is falling apart despite her best efforts, and the love she still feels for him. However, one stormy night, Lampie is unable to light the beacon and a ship is wrecked. Her and her father are cruelly punished. And then the magic, and the adventure for Lampie, begins. Great imagery, characterization and plot absolutely hooked me into this book. I really felt Lampie's trials and triumphs. My only disappointment came at the end- because it ended! This book is a translation from the Dutch, but it really doesn't feel it; you get a true sense of the author's authentic voice. A great read suitable for all year groups.

 'Voyages in the Underworld of Orpheus Black' by Marcus and Julian Sedgewick, illustrated by Alexis Deacon: A strange book. Not quite sure what to make of it, but I certainly had no problem finishing it, so that must say something. A brother is trying to rescue his older brother, lost in a bomb blast in London's Blitz, and the efforts to so this become increasingly strange and surreal. However, I'm not sure that the title, absolutely bursting with drama and adventure, really reflects the content of the book. For a start, most of it is set overground in a very recognizable WW2 London, and if you're expecting mythical monsters, well, there aren't any. This is a dual narrative switching between the diary and illustration of Harry, the younger brother, and the verse narrative of Orpheus, both tracking and leading Harry on his journey. The verse doesn't really work for me, and that becomes rather significant at the end of the book. The illustrations are impressive, really capturing the feel of the period. I think it is probably suitable for all year groups, but at the lower end a degree of reader maturity is required to deal with the complex narrative. It is an expensive book, but I have a school copy if you live in the Wingham/Littlebourne area and would like to read it. Just email me on

'Patron Saint of Nothing' by Randy Ribay: This book is in the vein of 'Saint Death' by Marcus Sedgewick which was shortlisted a couple of years back, and which I absolutely loved. This doesn't quite have the same impact, although I think it could have with some judicious editing, but is still a compelling, bleak, hopeful work looking hard at a very dark issue indeed: President Duterte's murderous regime in the Philippines. He claims it is a war on drugs, but it is a lawless butchering of drug users and dealers, and innocent people caught in the crossfire, and not a war on the causes of drug dealing and drug use. The book exposes the brutal outlook of the authorities as 17 year-old Jay flies to the Philippines to investigate the murder, in the war against drugs, of his cousin, Jun. His uncle, His uncle, Jun's father, is a police chief and a great supporter of the war even though it has taken his son. He ventures into the ghettos to seek the truth, and see the reality behind dug-use. The truth, when he does find it, is not straightforward, carrying plenty of emotional punches as it is revealed. As stated, I do think this book could have been stripped back a little bit, but I understand that Ribay wanted to create a great sense of the gulf between U.S. and Philippine societies, so the focus on the U.S. sections is understandable. Probably not for the younger years, but I think more mature Y8s and upwards could definitely engage with the characters, the situations, and find the read a great culturally broadening experience.

'On the Come Up' by Angie Thomas: I really loved Thomas' last book, 'The Hate You Give' (I'm told the film is nowhere near as good), and this book doesn't disappoint either. The characterization is equally strong for starters, and consistently good across a range of characters. Bri, the central character, is a 16-year-old rapper, and Thomas uses verse in the novel in her raps, and they really work (unlike in 'Orpheus Black') - I love the way that Thomas builds up to the raps in Bri's mind as she creates them freestyle. I'm sure that Thomas is presenting us with a sanitized version the 'the ghetto', but there is plenty of reality in there; just like 'THUG', it portrays the endemic racism and institutionalized unfairness at the root of U.S. society (just look at the stark differences in covid-19 infection in the U.S. between Black Americans, Latinos, and the White population for evidence of this) just as powerfully, but ultimately does leave us with a positive message on this front: given a chance, things can improve. So many challenging issues, but so many positive messages too; it's long, but unlike 'Patron Saint of Nothing', I don't think this is down to editing, but just because there's so much in it. I must admit, I did struggle with some of the slang and virtually all the brands which make up a large part of this, but by the end of the book I thought it was great - or should I say 'dope'? There is, as is to be expected, quite a lot of the use of the f-word, so perhaps not for the younger years, but certainly for Y9 and above, especially if they're into hip-hop. Another important book for Angie Thomas as far as I'm concerned.

Finally the last book.

'Black Flamingo' by Dean Atta: I actually finished this a couple of days back, but had to try to get around what I felt about it before posting. For personal reasons, Michael's (the narrator's) journey was of interest to me; and indeed, I think it is a book which will help lots of teenagers and adults, gay or otherwise, to understand the journey of sexual awakening which so many go through. Michael's character and journey are indeed compelling. However, I never really believed in any of the other characters (sorry if they are based on true people); Michael's journey is incredibly Michael-centric and, sadly for me, this lessened the emotional and intellectual impact of the book overall. The book is written, mostly (I think), in verse, if not totally, but as with other novels, too much of what is meant to be verse is just prose cut into lines as far as I'm concerned; however, when the verse does sing, it is very effective. Overall, very mixed about this book, although I have no trouble finishing it. I have written that I think 'On the Come Up' and 'The Patron Saint of Nowhere' are important books as they really tackle wider issues through individual stories and need to be read. I think that this book is interesting rather than important as, for me, it remains resolutely Michael's story alone, with the other characters and their part in it just bit-players. Mature Y9s and over only for this one, I feel.

SO! Overall, here is MY top eight in order.

1- 'Lampie' by Annet Schaap: simply wonderful; a book to take you far, far away.

2- 'On the Come Up' by Angie Thomas: an important, well-written book with great style and characterization.

3- 'Lark' by Anthony McGowan: 'Make them laugh, make them cry, make them wait' as Dickens once wrote, but all in only 110 pages.

4-  'Patron Saint of Nothing' by Randy Ribay: as I wrote, would have been better with some intelligent editing, but another important book.

5- 'Girl. Boy. Sea.' by Chris Vick: as I wrote, I thought that this was going to be a number one after 100 pages or so, but I think it drifted, and the ending was rather clunky in my view.

6- 'Nowhere on Earth' by Nick Lake: absolutely loved the action and characterization, but the ending was frankly, I think, disappointing; an emotional sponge when it should have been a sledgehammer.

7- 'Black Flamingo' by Dean Atta: I suppose it was meant to be Michael's tale, but it was simply too much his tale alone, for me, when his tale is also such a journey for all those involved. And as I wrote, the verse at times...

8- 'Voyages in the Underworld of Orpheus Black' by Sedgewick and Sedgewick: I'm thinking of an old advertisement: 'Does exactly what it says on the tin'; well, what the title suggests is not what you get. Definitely also loses a mark for annoyingly repeated grammatical error: 'to go and get...' type thing - horror as far as I'm concerned.

Of course, it's up to you to make your own minds up, so it would be great if you could post your reviews at Just click on the text under the book, enter the group which is 'St Anselm's Readers' and the password which is 'LOVEBIRD' (not my choice!), type in your review and send.

I really hope that I get some reviews challenging my views! You can always email me directly at

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