Guest Post: Lindsay J. Sedgwick – On turning your kids into book-loving hibernating bears

Good afternoon one and all! As a confirmed and passionate reader, it hurts my heart more than I can say that my kids have not yet discovered their own love of reading. Although they are still happy to be read to, picking up a book in a spare moment is just not something they would ever think of.

This is why I’m happy today to welcome Lindsay J. Sedgwick, author of the MG Wulfie series (Little Island), with her tips to get kids reading – there are definitely some here that I’ll be trying out!

Read on below for details of Wulfie: Beast in Show…

If you love to read, you can always escape – from today’s problems, from tomorrow’s – for a while. Like a hibernating bear, you can shut out the harsh realities and live in a different world. As a writer for kids, I want to pull them into stories that are fun, that are exciting, that are, ultimately, uplifting, but with so many digital distractions – not helped by the pandemic – how can we pass on a love of reading to our children?

1. Read, lots. 

Let them see you lost between the spine of a book; that this is something special and yet everyday. Talk about books, characters and stories you love. Between homeschooling and work, it’s hard to find time to read, but this is time for yourself too and that’s important for our own mental health. Perhaps one way is to make a reading pod with cushions in a corner of a room and designate a quiet half hour where you read and your kids are free to read or draw with you? 

2. Read to them before they get too old to let you… 

20 minutes at a time. Find a book that’s fun to read, so it’s fun for all of you. You could start reading a book out loud and walk with it. They will follow like baby fowl so that by the time you curl up on a sofa, they are hooked. Reading aloud is also meant to be really good for your brain; if it doesn’t come easily, it will get easier. Ask older children to read to you or to their younger siblings/ cousins/ kids of your friends. 

3. Follow their interest

Even if it’s something you don’t ‘get’, use what interests them as a way to get them reading and engaged. Magic, time travel or puzzles, bugs or history, real life stories or slapstick, football or dinosaurs… you can find something for them to read. It might not be a book; it might be it a magazine, comic, fan-fiction online or encyclopaedias such as the Guinness Book of Records. 

4. Try the books out first*

I don’t believe in talking down to kids ever, but a book where the sentences flow, where the opening paragraph intrigues or amuses them, in which you want to keep turning the pages will hook their interest. Especially for children reluctant to read so read a few pages to make sure they will manage it because you want to build up their confidence. If it’s tricky, sit with them and help them read the words they can’t. The context should help them absorb the meaning.

* Doesn’t apply if they are let loose in a library – oh let’s hope those days come back soon! 

5. Ask them to review the book

Ask them what it’s about, who they liked in the book and why, who they didn’t like, what the story was about, how it made them feel. They could write a review and illustrate it or, depending on how tech savvy you are, you could record it. Maybe you could upload the review to friends and family, or send it to an author – it’s one of the best things in the world to hear back from a child who has enjoyed your book!

6. Oh and libraries. Don’t you miss them? 

The glory of libraries was being allowed to choose a pile of books –favourite writers and random books.  Some would be good, some not but it didn’t matter because the books were free to borrow. And librarians are usually brilliant at recommending books once they know what your child likes. Some libraries are offering online sessions for kids with readings and art-based activities so they’re worth checking out. 

7. Make them authors

Want them to love books? Get them to write their own! This was something I did do with my own daughter and her friends – I’d get them to make up stories on the spot that I’d jot down – the madder the better, no editing required! I’d type them out into thin columns that I could print out, cut and stick into a tiny book of folded or cut out blank paper (A6), leaving space for them to add illustrations. Add a coloured card cover with the name of the story and the author. Lo and behold they are authors! 

Funniest book I remember as a child?

I think it was probably The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton although it was the lure of a different world arriving every day at the top of the tree that hooked me in. And for humour and rhythm, nothing beat AA Milne’s books of poems – When We Were Young, Now we are Six… I imagine my mother read them to me but they were fun to read aloud and so I remember many of them still…‘Jonathon Joe/ had a mouth like an ‘O’/ and a wheelbarrow full of surprises…’ ‘I had a little beetle/ so that ‘Beetle’ was its name/ and I called him Alexander / and he answered just the same.’

Great tips there from Lindsay – and I totally agree in wanting to be able to access the library properly too!

Wulfie: Beast in Show is published today by Little Island, and Wulfie: Stage Fright is also available now.

More about Wulfie: Beast in Show

Libby lives with her mean step-brother, Rex, who tells her scary stories so she can’t sleep. At school she is a loner. All Libby wants is a best friend – and to get revenge on Rex.

Libby’s life changes forever when she finds, in an old trunk in her bedroom, a little purple wolf-like creature named Wulfie.

Wulfie can talk. He can grow as big as a bear or shrink down as small as a snail. He’s sweet and kind, but he loves to get into trouble.

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Blog Tour: Hotel Cartagena by Simone Buchholz tr. Rachel Ward

Twenty floors above the shimmering lights of the Hamburg docks, Public Prosecutor Chastity Riley is celebrating a birthday with friends in a hotel bar when twelve heavily armed men pull out guns, and take everyone hostage. Among the hostages is Konrad Hoogsmart, the hotel owner, who is being targeted by a young man whose life – and family – have been destroyed by Hoogsmart’s actions.

With the police looking on from outside – their colleagues’ lives at stake – and Chastity on the inside, increasingly ill from an unexpected case of sepsis, the stage is set for a dramatic confrontation … and a devastating outcome for the team … all live streamed in a terrifying bid for revenge. Crackling with energy and populated by a cast of unforgettable characters, Hotel Cartagena is a searing, stunning thriller that will leave you breathless.

What I Thought:

So far for me, translated crime fiction has been a real winner. I like crime novels in general, but there’s just something a bit more exciting in novels written abroad instead of reading about the same old things happening in gritty London.

In Hotel Cartagena, we’re in Hamburg and there’s just as much going on!

This is my first Simone Buchholz novel and, although it is part of a series, it still packs a punch as a standalone novel. Could I have understood the relationships in play among the police colleagues a bit more from reading the other books? Maybe, but there is plenty here to keep you gripped.

I really liked the style of this book – there is the hostage situation going on, but intercut with it is the story of a young German man, Henning, who finds himself mixed up in a drug cartel in Colombia. We follow his story as the hostage situation escalates until we find out exactly who he is and what the whole situation is about. This is paced really well and, by the time of the big reveal, we’re ready for the fast-paced and explosive resolution.

Books in translation owe a lot to their translators and Rachel Ward has done a great job here – I see that she has translated all of the Orenda editions of Simone Buchholz’s books so obviously this is a strong partnership that, I hope, will continue.

I felt that reading this book gave me a taste of what the Chastity Riley series has to offer and I look forward to picking up the previous books in the series. I’ve just taken a look at them and I *love* the covers! The dark colours with the neon is right up my street – great job, Orenda…

Hotel Cartagena is published by Orenda Books.

To find out more about Simone Buchholz, you can check out her website or, alternatively, you can connect with her on Twitter.

This post is part of a blog tour celebrating the release of Hotel Cartagena. Why not take a look at the other participating blogs below?

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Book Review: Hungry by Grace Dent

From Frazzles to Foie Gras: a memoir of wanting more.

From an early age, Grace Dent was hungry. As a little girl growing up in Currock, Carlisle, she yearned to be something bigger, to go somewhere better.

Hungry traces Grace’s story from growing up eating beige food to becoming one of the much-loved voices on the British food scene. It’s also everyone’s story – from treats with your nan, to cheese and pineapple hedgehogs, to the exquisite joy of cheaply-made apple crumble with custard. It’s the high-point of a chip butty covered in vinegar and too much salt in the school canteen, on an otherwise grey day of double-Maths and cross country running. It’s the real story of how we have all lived, laughed, and eaten over the past 40 years.
Warm, funny and joyous, Hungry is also about love and loss, the central role that food plays in all our lives, and how a Cadbury’s Fruit ‘n’ Nut in a hospital vending machine can brighten the toughest situation.

What I Thought:

Having first been introduced to Grace Dent via Masterchef on TV, there was work to do to catch up with her written work, but I have been a regular reader ever since. I guess because we are not that far apart in age, Grace’s experience growing up resonates with me – especially from a food point of view, so reading Hungry was a complete joy!

From ‘sketty’ at home, to chip butties and – oh dear god – ‘salads’ at school, there are so many memories wrapped up in the food we eat, and Grace is able to frame the periods of her life with these shared memories, all told with her trademark wry humour, but there are some incredibly emotional sections as her family deals with the emergence of strange behaviour from her Dad which they surmise is the onset of dementia.

It is in these passages of family connection that this memoir really stood out for me – Grace Dent’s literary side-eye might have made her name, but she writes so sensitively and honestly about what must have been a truly exhausting and saddening period of her life that I was really moved by it.

Although this is primarily a book about one woman’s life, there is so much in it that defines a generation – especially one that lived – gasp! – BEFORE THE INTERNET! It was a genuine pleasure to take a trip down my own memory lane as I read and I’d recommend it to all, but particularly women of my age…

Hungry is published by Mudlark.

You can find Grace Dent’s column in The Guardian, and can catch up with her on Twitter.

Please note: I received a copy of this book for review via Netgalley. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Book Review: Nick by Michael Farris Smith

Before Nick Carraway moved to West Egg and into Gatsby’s world, he was at the centre of a very different story – one taking place along the trenches and deep within the tunnels of World War I.

Floundering in the wake of the destruction he witnessed first-hand, Nick delays his return home, hoping to escape the questions he cannot answer about the horrors of war. Instead, he embarks on a transcontinental redemptive journey that takes him from a whirlwind Paris romance – doomed from the very beginning – to the dizzying frenzy of New Orleans, rife with its own flavour of debauchery and violence.

What I Thought:

I’ve not read The Great Gatsby for a very long time, but found myself intrigued by the idea of a prequel from the point of view of that book’s narrator, Nick Carraway. He does seem ripe for a back story, as so little about his history is mentioned in Scott Fitzgerald’s book.

Michael Farris Smith has taken quite bold approach to Nick, in that it is only in the last few lines that he arrives in West Egg, ready to take on the role of the narrator that we already know of.

Aside from that, the rest of this book is a tense and powerful novel of a young man’s experiences in WW1 and what the trauma of such experiences can do to people in a physical and mental sense.

I’m not sure whether it was intended the way I read it, but I felt that the section of the book set in New Orleans paired Nick and Jude up to show the depth of physical and mental scars existing in the men returning from the war by consciously pairing up the two injured men whose only real connection is that they understood what it was like to be there. Their association during this section is very dark and bleak but, perhaps Nick’s return from New Orleans signals his being able to rise above his memories and guilt?

I have an abiding interest in WW1 and I felt that the sections of the book dealing with this, especially the tunnelling campaign, were excellent, depicting the every day experiences of the fighting men, but also the futility of advancing and retreating over the same piece of ground. There is also an immediacy about Nick’s relationship with Elle in Paris that emphasises the importance of grabbing moments and experiences while you can.

In the foreword by Michael Farris Smith, he says that he approached Gatsby very differently upon reading it at a later stage in his life and I am interested to see what the difference of years makes to me when I read it again – I have found out my copy of Gatsby to do just that soon.

Regardless of whether you associate this book with Gatsby or not, it is an excellent novel of the First World War – sensitively written and with a real understanding of the loss and guilt of war, I very much enjoyed it.

Nick is released today (25th February) and is published by No Exit Press.

To find out more about Michael Farris Smith, you can check out his website. Alternatively, why not connect with him on Twitter?

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Book Review: Second Chances in Chianti by T. A. Williams

Alice thought her future was set in stone, until her past came knocking…

Alice Butler starred in a successful US sitcom until tensions in the cast and crew caused the show to be cancelled. Now, five years later and working towards her dream job in art history, she’s called back for a revival of the show. It can only end in disaster, surely?

Flown to a villa in Chianti to meet with the rest of the cast, Alice must decide where her future lies – with her boyfriend, David, who laps up the Hollywood company, or with the mysterious Matt, who shies away from public attention?

What I Thought:

One of my prevailing thoughts these days is ‘Thank goodness for romantic fiction!’. I find myself reading more and more of it recently as a bit of pre-pandemic happiness is very welcome.

T. A. Williams is spoiling us at the moment with Second Chances in Chianti, the second book in his Escape to Tuscany series, which is out today but not only that – there is a third book in the series due out in July!

I make no secret of the fact that I love Trevor’s books – they are light and funny, but also regularly look at the history, art and culture of Tuscany, plus there is obvious affection for the people and places he writes about. The descriptions of the area are so vivid that you can almost imagine yourself strolling among the vines on a Tuscan hillside!

What I like most about these books is that, despite glamorous locations and people, the lead characters are always sensible, down-to-earth women who are not normally given to flights of fancy – so when an intriguing man comes along, there is this immediate decision to be made – should she follow her head of her heart? I think you can probably guess which way things will go but getting to that conclusion is the fun part!

As ever, I’d thoroughly recommend this book, and you can pick up any of Trevor’s other works and find them of a similarly high standard – plus, there’s added Black Labrador in every book!

Second Chances in Chianti is published today by Canelo.

To find out more about T. A. Williams and his books, you can check out his website. Alternatively, why not connect with him on Twitter?

As Second Chances in Chianti is published today, you can check out lots of other brilliant blog posts and features on Twitter – find the links on Trevor’s account as above.

Please note: I was sent a copy of this book via Netgalley for review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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