Introducing Camilla Leask, our brilliant new monthly Book Club guru!
Freelance books publicist and mum of two, Camilla has worked predominantly with children’s authors for 14 years. There’s nothing she doesn’t know about books, hot off the press new releases and what our members and their families will enjoy reading.
Here she gives us her top picks for July!
BLOOM by Nicola Skinner (HarperCollins Children’s, £6.99).
This is a funny, dark, highly original story about Sorrel Fallowfield, who lives in a creepy cottage with her mum Trixie, downbeat from working all hours at the local frozen pizza factory in the miserable town of Little Sterilis. The playing fields at Sorrel’s school are about to be concreted over for an exam hall, a decision made by headteacher Mr Grittysnit and rich local developer Rufus Valentini, both caricature baddies.
Star pupil Sorrel, lauded for her conformism, starts to hear voices and finds some ‘Surprising Seeds’ in her garden. She and her scientist friend Neena soon discover Strangeways, a peculiar garden centre with plants but no visitors, run by Sid, who encourages the girls to take charge of their own destiny. Throwing caution to the wind, they sprinkle the little black ‘Surprising Seeds’ onto their heads, triggering extraordinary events that will change their lives forever.
The people of Little Sterilis experience intense sleepiness, a raging thirst and a need for sunshine, before plants suddenly start sprouting from their heads. The town attracts the world’s press, hungry for the scoop of their lives.
Slowly, Sorrel unravels the curse left by Agatha Strangeways, Sid’s ancestor, of Little Cherrybliss, the old name for Little Sterilis which was a place of meadows, rivers and wildlife before the unscrupulous Valentinis started their cementing. It’s up to Sorrel to help her family, friends and neighbourhood flourish in what could otherwise turn into a horticultural horror story.
This is not your average story of magic seeds and wishes coming true. First published in 2019, this darkly comic book carries an unnerving clairvoyance – references to lockdown, epidemics and hand sanitiser add to the gravity of Sorrel and Neena’s otherworldly situation.
PRETTY FUNNY by Rebecca Elliot (Penguin, £7.99)
The first foray into YA for children’s author Rebecca Elliot, PRETTY FUNNY is an endearing tale about teenage angst and the transformative power of comedy.
14-year old Haylah Swinton is a self-confessed comedy geek with poor body image, a messy-but-loving home life and a flair for whip-smart humour. At school she goes by Pig, a self-appointed nickname to remove the ‘elephant in the room’ and disarm the bullies by taking control of their punchlines.
When school heartthrob Leo nails a stand-up comedy performance at ‘Castle Park’s Got Talent’, Haylah falls hard. Overhearing Leo bemoan a lack of content for his next open-mic performance, Haylah devises a way to sneak some of her own jokes into his locker. Before long, they’re working together on ‘funnies’ that will win Leo the London Nationals. Fuelled by a desire to sustain their blossoming friendship, Haylah ignores the gentle warnings from loved ones about Leo’s true intentions.
With some great sub-plots and characters – worthy of a Richard Curtis movie – what follows is a reassuringly predictable, feel-good ending. In spite of a hearty dose of teenage self-absorption, Haylah had me rooting for her from the start.
I AM NOT YOUR BABY MOTHER by Candice Braithwaite (Quercus, £16.99)
Part-memoir, part-manifesto, I AM NOT YOUR BABY MOTHER is a thought-provoking, urgent, inspirational guide to life as a black mother in the UK, told in Candice’s trademark sense of humour and refreshing candour.
Candice found her experiences of pregnancy and motherhood bore little resemblance to the images of mothers projected in glossy magazines or in the pinned discussions on mumsnet. Leafing through the piles of baby paraphernalia, she found herself wondering: “Where are all the black mothers?”.
Candice started blogging about motherhood in 2016 after making the simple but powerful observation that the way motherhood is portrayed in the British media is wholly unrepresentative of our society at large.
The result is I AM NOT YOUR BABY MOTHER, a call-to-arms which explores the various stages in between pregnancy and waving your child off at the gates of primary school, while facing hurdles such as white privilege, racial micro-aggression and unconscious bias at every point. A must-read for everyone, mother or not.
EDUCATED by Tara Westover, (Windmill Books PB £9.99)
On the off-chance that you haven’t read it already, EDUCATED is the astonishing account of Westover’s journey from an unregistered Idaho mountain-girl to a Cambridge-educated, fiercely intelligent young woman.
Tara Westover grew up preparing for the End of Days in the American west with her radical survivalist Mormon parents. The youngest of seven, Westover didn’t get a birth certificate until she was nine and had no medical records – her father, who ran a junkyard, did not believe in doctors or education. To the state and federal government, the Westovers did not exist.
Aged 17, Westover decided to educate herself as a means of escape from one of her brother’s increasingly violent and abusive behaviour towards her, something her parents defiantly refuted. She says that in ‘families like mine there is no crime worse than telling the truth.’
Educated is a searingly candid, often harrowing account of survival and of the transformative power of education. Now 31 and still living in Cambridge, Westover’s unforgettably powerful memoir will stay with you long after the final page.
Camilla Leask has worked with literary giants including Waterstone’s Children’s Laureate 2019-2022 Cressida Cowell, the late Michael Bond and Paddington Bear, Enid Blyton Entertainment and the Narnia Estate among many others.