Review: Julia and the Shark by Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Tom de Freston

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Goodreads | Waterstones

Julia has followed her mum and dad to live on a remote island for the summer – her dad, for work; her mother, on a determined mission to find the elusive Greenland shark. But when her mother’s obsession threatens to submerge them all, Julia finds herself on an adventure with dark depths and a lighthouse full of hope…
A beautiful, lyrical, uplifting story about a mother, a daughter, and love – with timely themes of the importance of science and the environment.

I’ve read a lot of Kiran Millwood Hargrave books across different ages, and I’ve liked them all a lot. Loved them, even. But none have captured my heart like Julia and the Shark did. There was something else about this book that made it feel like it was the story Kiran and Tom are trying to tell. It was told from the heart, from the centre of their souls. If you didn’t know, Kiran and Tom are a wife and husband team and I love that. Tom is an artist and he illustrated this book, and there’s something about the emotion in it that really shows.

This is a middle grade story about a girl called Julia who moves to an island off the coast of Scotland because her mum is in search of a Greenland shark. But this story is about so much more than that. It’s about family and mental health and adventure. It’s about growing up.

That’s another thing about words: there’s space in them. They change according to whose mouth they’re coming out of. 

I read this with my friend Alex, and she said this book reminded her of A Monster Calls, and I completely see why she felt that way. There was so much emotion crammed within these pages, these beautiful words. I flew through this book in one sitting, because I couldn’t put it down, especially after the first half.

I was a little hesitant at first how much this book would discuss mental health, and it was a bit darker than I expected. However, I do think this one handles depression for children in a really approachable way. It’s sad, and it’s difficult, but it’s real. I did find myself getting so emotional while reading, but it was also so full of hope and light that I loved the ending.

Sometimes they change so much in mine they become something else entirely, but Dad says these are called lies.

This book was just so beautiful and so easy to fall in love with. It has quickly become one of those books I would recommend to anybody, and feels so very needed.

★★★★★
5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

May your shelves forever overflow with books! ☽

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Review: A Secret of Birds & Bone by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

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In an Italian city ravaged by plague, Sofia’s mother carves beautiful mementos from the bones of loved ones. But one day, she doesn’t return home. Did her work lead her into danger? Sofia and her little brother Ermin are sent to the convent orphanage but soon escape, led by an enigmatic new friend and their pet crow, Corvith.
Together they cross the city underground, following clues in bones up to the towers of Siena, where – circled by magpies – the children find the terrible truth …

I’ve read quite a few of Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s books by now and I haven’t found one I didn’t like! I’ve had this one on my TBR ever since release and I finally got around to reading it with Alex. In this book, we follow two siblings who are taken to an orphanage in Sienna. I loved the setting of Sienna, which came across beautifully in the writing and I thought suited the story well.

The two siblings were easy to root for on their adventurous journey through the orphanage and beyond, and I really enjoyed the family aspect of this book. There was also a boy they met along the way, Ghino, who I quickly built up a soft spot for.

This one was slightly darker than I expected, and had a Gothic atmosphere about it that felt perfect for the setting and I really enjoyed. The writing was quick and easy to read and I sped through it, as well as telling the story beautifully.

Overall, this one might not be for everybody and might be a little dark for some children but I loved the atmosphere!

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

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Goodreads | Waterstones

Finnmark, Norway, 1617. Twenty-year-old Maren Magnusdatter stands on the craggy coast, watching the sea break into a sudden and reckless storm. Forty fishermen, including her brother and father, are drowned and left broken on the rocks below. With the menfolk wiped out, the women of the tiny Arctic town of Vardø must fend for themselves.
Three years later, a sinister figure arrives. Absalom Cornet comes from Scotland, where he burned witches in the northern isles. He brings with him his young Norwegian wife, Ursa, who is both heady with her husband’s authority and terrified by it. In Vardø, and in Maren, Ursa sees something she has never seen before: independent women. But Absalom sees only a place untouched by God, and flooded with a mighty evil.
As Maren and Ursa are drawn to one another in ways that surprise them both, the island begins to close in on them, with Absalom’s iron rule threatening Vardø’s very existence.

I don’t read or enjoy much historical fiction, so I was definitely a little hesitant going into this one. But I really like Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s other work, and I’ve heard great things about this book. I ended up reading this one as part of a buddy read with some friends, which was really nice and definitely made me finally pick this one up! I’ve had this one since the hardback release, and it’s been a long time coming.

Firstly, I’m really glad I picked this one up in autumn. The book itself is quite bleak and it fit the season so well. I started reading this one while it was raining heavily outside and the atmosphere felt so perfect. We start this book with the women of the island losing all of their men to the sea, which I found such a fascinating premise to the book, especially in the historical context.

Many of them seem past caring what is true or not, only desperate for some reason, 

I quickly found myself really liking the characters and the fact this one follows predominantly women as they find their own independence. We follow Maren, who has always lived on the island, and Ursa, who moves to the island with her husband from mainland Norway. Having these two perspectives gave the perfect amount of contrast to the story and kept me interested in both of their stories, and I loved their growing friendship.

I found myself really enjoying the setting and although it makes the book feel very contained, it doesn’t necessarily feel limited. The writing was beautiful and portrayed the story well, and although this book does have quite a few harrowing and bleak scenes, they don’t feel unnecessary and they are there to push the plot forward. I must admit I did occasionally find the plot quite slow and not as engaging as I wanted sometimes. It took me just under a week to read this one, which felt like quite a while for a 350 page book.

some order to the rearrangement of their lives, even if it is brought about by a lie.

Overall, this one was really enjoyable in places, but the writing did let it down in others.

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

May your shelves forever overflow with books! ☽

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Review: The Deathless Girls by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

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Goodreads | Waterstones

They say the thirst of blood is like a madness – they must sate it. Even with their own kin.
On the eve of her divining, the day she’ll discover her fate, seventeen-year-old Lil and her twin sister Kizzy are captured and enslaved by the cruel Boyar Valcar, taken far away from their beloved traveller community.
Forced to work in the harsh and unwelcoming castle kitchens, Lil is comforted when she meets Mira, a fellow slave who she feels drawn to in a way she doesn’t understand. But she also learns about the Dragon, a mysterious and terrifying figure of myth and legend who takes girls as gifts.
They may not have had their divining day, but the girls will still discover their fate..

I didn’t plan to read this book just before Halloween, but I’m really glad I did. It is mystical and haunting and just perfect for Autumn. I really wasn’t sure what to expect from this book, but I ended up really enjoying it. I read The Girl of Ink and Stars a couple of years ago and really liked the writing, so I was glad to delve back into her worlds.

The writing really didn’t let me down. It was so atmospheric and beautiful, and made the book fly by. This book is fairly short, clocking in at just over 300 pages, and I loved that about it. I got into it super quickly, and read 50-100 pages for a couple of days and finished it so quickly!

I thought my silence, my stillness, was a fine way to be. 

The characters really carried this story for me. I loved the relationship between the two main characters, who are sisters. I also really enjoyed reading about the romances, which included a lovely, positive f/f relationship that I adored reading about so much.

I was a little hesitant going into this book after my friend Courtney read it and was disappointed by the ending. I can really sympathise with why she didn’t like how it ended, and maybe I would have felt differently without the knowledge that I might not enjoy it. However, I didn’t mind the ending. I’m a sucker for a happy ending, but I find I appreciate a hopeful one more. And although the ending felt a little rush in the decisions of the main characters, I still enjoyed it quite a lot.

But now I realised it made me as bad as those men who took the side of a monster, who watched a locked door as children starved to death inside.

I wasn’t aware this book was a retelling about Dracula’s brides until I read the acknowledgements at the end, but knowing only added more. I can really visualise how the story has evolved into the beautiful and haunting narrative that is The Deathless Girls.


★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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