Thursday, 28 October 2021

New release: The Fire Fox by Alexandra Page and Stef Murphy

                                                                     Link to Publisher

                                          Published by: Two Hoots, Pan Macmillan, Oct 28th 2021

                                                                     👍👍👍👍👍

It's only been a couple of weeks since Alexandra Page's brilliant debut novel, Wishyouwas was released. Now, straight off the back of that comes The Fire Fox-Alexandra's debut picture book, illustrated by Stef Murphy. 

Freya and her mum have lost the light in their life since Freya's dad passed away. But when Freya meets a fox, she follows him into the forest and embarks on a thrilling adventure that brings back sparks of warmth and fresh hope.

Inspired by the Saami myth of the fire fox, whose fur scatters sparks that become the Northern Lights, this is a story about finding strength amid grief and loss. Yet such is the cleverness of this tale, that the words 'grief', 'loss' or 'death' are ever mentioned. Instead, Freya, through the fire fox, is drawn into the beauty of the world around her until she finds the light amongst the darkness. 

This story is completely different to Wishyouwas but showcases equally stunning storytelling. However, it is the combination of the words alongside the breathtaking visuals by Stef Murphy that makes this a truly special picture book. The bluey-purple colour palette crackles with a silent magic that allows a growing yellowy warmth to burst into flame at the end- filling the reader with a fuzzy feeling of cosiness and joy. The fox himself is magnificent and completely commands the page without the need for words. Effortlessly told and beautifully plotted, this is sure to become a future classic. 

New release: Anisha Accidental Detective-Showstoppers by Serena Patel and Emma McCann

 

Link to publisher

Published by: Usborne, 28th October 2021

👍👍👍👍👍

It's the release of book four today but Anisha, Accidental Detective has already established herself as a firm favourite in our house over the last year or so. It's easy to see why. What, with a reluctant hero, a crazy family and a new mystery to unravel in every new instalment, we never want this series to end. 

Anisha is out of her comfort zone. Her school has only one week to pull-off a full-scale musical production and things are going wrong.

 As newly appointed 'director's assistant', Anisha soon takes it upon herself to get to the bottom of their endless bad luck. Miss. Jive is convinced the performance is cursed, but Anisha is sure there's a more logical explanation. Can she crack the case before the curtain goes up?

This series was brilliant from book one but is growing from strength to strength with every new story. Back in her school setting (which we got to know in book two), Anisha takes us deeper into her world, revealing both new and familiar characters and an entertaining mystery with high stakes. There's red herrings galore and a shady suspect who just has to get their comeuppance and we loved the funny solution that Anisha devises to catch the culprit!

As always, as well as the mystery itself, there's a stageful of warmth and heart to this story. Anisha's growing relationship with Mindy is genuinely touching and there's a fabulous balance between the child and adult characters, including the brilliant Granny Jas and Aunt Bindi (watch out for their shining moment). The character dynamics have become bolder and more hilarious (also watch out for the interaction and banter between Milo and Mindy) and there's a wonderful team camaraderie that shines a strong message across the plot. 

The humour is also excellent. With cats and olives and trumpets and a wedding, you can't help but want to read on to see what chaos unfolds next. However, the shining light in this series has to remain firmly on Anisha. With her determination, perseverance and thoughtfulness, she is the centre stage character in this fabulous ensemble. 

Anisha, Accidental Detective: Showstoppers is available to purchase from today, October 28th 2021. 



Sunday, 24 October 2021

EEK! It's time for my favourite blog post of the year, our spooky Halloween Round-Up for 2021, including my very own debut picture book.

Wow! We had so much fun writing last year's spooky round-up but this year the bookshop shelves seems to have exploded with even more fabulous releases in time for Halloween. From poetry books to picture books and right through to middle grade, no reader is being left out this year. There really is something for everyone. 

Yet again, we've had tremendous fun in our house trawling our local independent bookshops (what a treat to get out to an actual bookshop!) for new purchases and I think it's pretty obvious from my very depleted bank balance that spooky books are a big favourite of ours. This year, however, feels extra special as my very own debut picture book has been released into the world by small indie publisher, Final Chapter. Not specifically a Halloween tale but in-keeping with the seasonal vibe, Pumpkin's Fairytale features Pumpkin as the main character and is a twist on a fairytale classic. It is available to buy from Final ChapterWaterstones and Foyles, if you fancy enjoying it with your little ones and any support will be greatly appreciated. 

Published by: Final Chapter
Written by: Tracy Curram
Illustrated by: Wayne Oram

You may know one side of the tale in this book,
But a new story's sprouted. Come in! Take a look!
There's a character growing, he's full of ambition. Come and join Pumpkin, he's off on a mission...
Before I continue with the new releases, I also wanted to pay homage to an old classic that I absolutely loved as a child but could never remember the title or author. How delighted I was when I recently recognised it on social media and snatched up a copy. The day it arrived was like stepping back in time- an archeological dig into my memory that evoked the same smells and feelings that I felt as a child. What's more, it's proved just as popular now. All three of my children absolutely LOVE it and my six-year-old son hasn't put it down for about three days. So, if you're looking for a novelty pop-up book with all the spooky feels, we cannot recommend Haunted House by Jan Pienkowski highly enough. Author of the Meg and Mog books, this is suitable for a young audience and will be loved by an older one. However, please note that this probably isn't for the faint-hearted or the particularly sensitive as some of the images are decidedly creepy. If that's okay with your little ones then the interactive element will keep readers entertained over and over again.

Anyway, before I waffle on anymore, let's launch into a round-up of what's currently on the market. 

                                                                BOARD BOOKS
We're Going on a Pumpkin Hunt by Goldie Hawk and Angie Rosie Rozelaar
Link to publisher

Published by: Nosy Crow, September 2020
👍👍👍👍👍

Perfect for toddlers, this beautifully produced board book is the Halloween version of We're Going on a Bear Hunt. As you journey through the pages, watch out for bats and cats and spiders webs, a haunted house and a very spooky surprise. 

This book, with it's gorgeous, orangey-popping colour palette, leaps off the bookshelf. It's chunky thickness is super satisfying to hold and the rhythmic repetition of the story will have little ones chanting along in delight. We loved how the shadows closed in towards the middle of the story to create a creepier, spookier feel and then ended on a lovely bright note. 

As with the majority of Nosy Crow board and picture books, there's a QR code on the back which allows readers to access an audio version of the story. This adds extra value to the book and offers an even more immersive story experience. It's definitely a future Halloween classic!

                                                                    PICTURE BOOKS

There's a Ghost in this House by Oliver Jeffers
Published by: HarperCollins: October 5th 2021
👍👍👍👍👍

At £20, this is comes with a sizeable price tag for a picture book. Never before would I have considered paying that sort of money for any children's fiction but:

1) this is Oliver Jeffers we're talking about.

2) when I saw a signed copy on a bookshelf in St. Ives, I didn't think twice about picking it up.

Why? Because this book is an absolute treat. Exquisitely put together with a peephole cover and transluscent overlays for each page, it's clever and engaging and my son was so thrilled with it, he insisted on reading it with everyone in the house. 

A young girl thinks her house is haunted but has never actually seen a ghost. As she takes you on a tour, can you help her find some?

As it states in the blurb, this is essentially an interactive and spooky game of hide and seek and a classic example of how words and pictures can be offset against each other to create truly special storytelling. The girl insists she's never seen a ghost but that may not be the experience of the reader so keep your eyes peeled. Nothing more is needed than the very simple text because the artwork is really something. The illustrations are mixed media and the black and white photographic backgrounds are used to extraordinary effect. 

I was really intrigued by the footnotes about the house. It made me wonder whether this was a real-life setting. It certainly added a bit of extra intrigue and sophistication to the book and I loved how the childhood delight that is hide and seek has been given a mature feel, making this the perfect story to share between generations. 

                                                                                     Gustavo the Shy Ghost by Flavia.Z Drago

Link to publisher
Published by: Walker Books. October 2020

👍👍👍👍👍

This isn't exactly a new release but I had to include it because I don't quite know how we missed Gustavo last year. With an adorable character set within the pages of a beautifully illustrated book, this is the perfect story for young readers who want to don't want to be scared this season. 

Gustavo is a very shy ghost - too shy to make a friend. But when Gustavo decides to be brave and reach out, will he get what he so desperately wants?

This debut picture book by Flavia Z. Drago won the 2021 Klaus Flugge prize for the most exciting newcomer to picture book illustration and its easy to see why.  Born and raised in Mexico City, Drago has used the Day of the Dead as the event in her story and the artwork reflects this beautifully. The front cover is probably one of my favourite picture book covers ever; stunning, vivid and with a fabulous portrayal of Gustavo himself who is a super-cute, relatable and memorable character.

There's a lovely gentle message in this book about being true to yourself and, like Oliver Jeffer's book above, it includes a fun hide-and-seek element on some of the pages. Young readers will be able to relate to Gustavo's fear of making friends and I loved how actions rather than words are championed in the story. This is a tale that glows with warmth, just like the Gustavo himself.

Which Nose for Witch by David Crosby and Carolina Coroa

Link to publisher

Published by: Maverick Publishing, Sep 2021

👍👍👍👍

Following the success of David Crosby's debut picture book, Pirates vs Monsters, this author has bewitched us with another corker. Which Nose for Witch is a funny, non-scary tale that is perfect for Halloween and beyond. Again, with the powerful message of staying true to yourself but told in a completely original way, this story will have readers giggling long after the lights go out. 

It's time for Grizelda to choose her grown-up nose but when her mum takes her shopping, she doesn't find anything suitable. With the pressure mounting and her mum in a tizzy, will Grizelda carry on searching or does she have a bold announcement to make?

This is definitely a 'why has no one thought of this before' idea- clever, imaginative and brilliantly executed. The rhyme adds a spring and a bounce to the text and the illustrations by Carolina Coroa are witchy perfection. This is definitely an author we're excited about in our house- someone who can bring simple stories to life with a dramatic twist and a wicked sense of humour. We love it!

                                                                        How to Make Friends with a Ghost by Rebecca Green

Link to publisher
Published by: Anderson Press, 2018

👍👍👍👍👍

Published in 2018, this is not a new release but new to our radar, so we thought we'd include it. Written in 'guide book' form, this book with it's spooky tonal palette is delightful, warm and funny. 

If you're lucky enough to ever find a ghost, it might need a friend. This helpful guide will tell you how to befriend it so you can develop a friendship that will last a lifetime and beyond...

With subtitles and diagrams and recipes, the non-fiction layout of this book is genius. We loved the  dry humour wrapped up in the rather formal tone  and, with so much to look at and read, it's definitely a book little ones will enjoy over and over again. There's a lovely tender touch at the end and the power of friendship is truly championed. This is also perfect for young readers who enjoy interacting and role-playing with imaginary friends. 

                                                               Chapter Books

                                                                                Magnificent Mabel and the Very Important Witch

Link to publisher

Published by: Nosy Crow, Sep 2021

👍👍👍👍👍

Magnificent Mabel is hilarious and this new release is no exception. Fun, mischievous and totally character led, each of the three stories are brilliantly written and utterly child-centred. 

Magnificent Mabel and the Very Important Witch: Mabel is furious when her mum cancels their trick or treating trip and they have to go and visit Great-Aunt Bridget in a care home instead. But it may be Mabel that' s in for a treat when she realises that her aunt is not as uninteresting as she thought...

Magnificent Mabel and the Worry Box: When Mabel puts a worry in the school worry box, Mrs. Roscoe offers her help. But when Mabel spots someone else using the box, may it's time to see if she can help instead...

Magnificent Mabel and the Monster Scarer: There's a monster under Mabel's bed and she is sure a high-up bunk bed will solve the problem. But when she finds her very own monster scarer, her problem is suddenly solved...

These stories are perfect for the 5-7 age-group. The font is large and accessible, allowing young readers to develop their confidence and independance when reading. The language is relatively simple, but also allows room to stretch a child's reading ability, and the stories are short to enable a sense of success and achievability. They are also perfect to be read by an adult to a child.

Mabel is a strong, relatable and feisty character and the author, Ruth Quayle, has nailed Mabel's child-centred view of the world around her. From problems at home to issues at school, Mabel is direct, curious, mischievous, independant and really funny. The stories scenarios are all highly relevant to children and are engaging, pacey and fun. Each character feels unique and we especially liked 'that mother' of Mabel's and Sophie Simpson. If you're looking for more of a non-fantasy, true-to-life series, this could be the one.

Midnight Magic: Mirror Mischief by Michelle Harrison and Elissa Elwick

Link to Publisher

Published by: Little Tiger, September 2021

👍👍👍👍

We loved reviewing the first Midnight Magic book last year and this tale is double the fun. Told in rhyme, this book is perfect for the 5-7 age bracket and also for emerging independent readers.

With Trixie at school, Midnight finds the perfect new playmate by bringing her mirror reflection to life. But when the glass gets smashed and her magical mirror cat escapes, the feline fun quickly turns into mischief. Can Trixie and Midnight find a way to turn Midnight's devilish double back into a reflection?

This is a story of magical mayhem which works wonderfully in rhyme. There's a perfect mix of characters and the two-tone illustrations convey the humour of the story to a tee- just look at the expression on the mirror cat's face! The storyline is simple but hilarious with our favourite scene probably being Nan on the back of the broomstick. With chaos, adventure and oodles of mischievous magic, this is the perfect tale for a Halloween night.

                               Diary of an Accidental Witch by Honor and Perdita Cargill and Katie Saunders

Link to publisher

Published by: Little Tiger, September 2021

👍👍👍👍👍

Also published by Little Tiger, Diary of an Accidental Witch is the first in a new series for 7-9 year olds. Written in diary form, the story documents the misadventures of Bea Black after her dad accidentally enrols her at witch school. 

When Bea Black and her dad move to Little Spellshire, Bea is aghast to learn that he has enrolled her in the wrong school. Going to witch school when you have no magical powers whatsoever is going to prove tricky, especially when you're lumped with looking after the class frog and PE takes place on a broomstick. 

Can poor Bea find a way to fit in as well as keeping Little Spellshire's magical secret? And how will she cope at the annual Halloween Ball?

This series is a magical potion for success and we absolutely LOVED it! It's perfect for fans of Scribble Witch and The Worst Witch or anyone who fancies diving into an hilarious witchy tale. The world-building and attention to detail is brilliant and the accessible diary format allows us to instantly connect with Bea. We loved her 'Things I Will Achieve Lists' and the genius crossings out in the diary entries themselves. There's a strong narrative arc, a gaggle of fabulous characters and a setting that you just wish you could visit. 

With spells to learn, friends to make and tricky GO manouvres to learn, Bea really has her work to cut out trying to fit in. As expected, there's the traditional school meanie and a whole host of other challenges. We particularly loved the 'bat bunting' and seeing Bea grow and develop as the story progressed. The ending is funny and satisfying and we know this series could just run and run. If you're looking for a trick-or-treat this season, this is both in one FABULOUS package.

                                                         Middle-Grade

Fairy Tales Gone Bad: Frankenstiltskin by Joseph Coelho and Freya Hartas

Link to publisher

Published by: Walker Books, Oct 2021

If you're looking for something decidedly more stomach-churning and blood-curdling, then the second in the Fairy Tales Gone Bad series has just been released. Written in non-rhyming verse, this follows on from the success of Zombierella and is easily as gruesome, gory and garish. 

When Bryony, an famous taxidermist, is taken by the King of all Mythica and given an impossible task, she has no choice but to accept the help of a strange creature with extraordinary powers. But she soon learns that there's a high price to pay for accepting his magic and if she doesn't guess his name, the outcome could cost her everything. 

The first thing to say about this book is that the front cover and the black and white illustrations by Freya Hartas are incredible. They bring the dark humour of the story to life and enhance the gothic and gruesome vibe. I particularly loved the portrayal of the animals and of Frankenstiltskin himself.

Joseph Coelho's adaptation of this famous story is highly imaginative- dark and twisty with lots of devilish detail. The angle is fresh (or maybe not considering the amount of rotting corpses in it), original and vivid and the ending has a clever twist. If you think 'Tim Burton' of the book world, that should give you an idea of what to expect. 

The verse format (and the extra white space you get as a result of this) gives a light feel to a dark tale and allows readers to rip through the pages at an extrordinary pace. It's perfect for readers who want a dose of Halloween horror without committing to a long, more time-consuming novel. Deliciously wicked but with a strong moral message, this has fast become one of my favourite series and I can't wait for the next one. 

                                                  The Bewitching of Aveline Jones by Phil Hickes and Keith Robinson

Link to publisher
Published by: Usborne, September 2021

👍👍👍👍👍

The Haunting of Aveline Jones blew me away last year. Not for the faint-hearted, it offered a BIG, nail-biting fright in a small, sleek package. I was super excited, therefore, to discover that this was to be the first in a series and as a result had The Bewitching of Aveline Jones on pre-order for months. 

When Aveline and her mum head out of the city on a summer break, Aveline is thrilled to learn their holiday cottage sits next to an ancient stone circle that's steeped in mystery. Her excitement soon increases when she meets Hazel, an unusual girl who is keen to befriend her. But what is it about Hazel that feels off? Will Aveline work it out before it's too late?

Slightly thicker than its prequel but still relatively short for a novel, this is, once again, an example of terrific, supernatural storytelling. Phil Hickes unravels the story effortlessly, plunging the reader straight into a fog of mystery and intrigue. The atmosphere is also greatly enhanced by Keith Robinson's illustrations which ooze a sinister eeriness across the page, particularly in the pages between chapters. 

After getting to know Aveline in the first novel, it was lovely to instantly slip back into her world. I was also really excited to meet Harold again and it was great to see that his and Aveline's friendship had progressed between novels. The banter between them was funny and sharp and the dynamic well-balanced with the arrival of Hazel. 

The characters in these stories are sparse but all functional. Whereas Aunt Lilian, Mr. Lieberman and Aveline's mum were more upfront in the first novel, this time they take far more of a back seat leaving the path open for the arrival of Hazel and Alice. The plot has an historical element to it, which dips into  real-life history, and this gives the entire tale an authenticity and believeability which is truly gripping. 

I loved this tale from start to finish. My personal opinion is that it's not as scary as Aveline's first supernatural adventure but it's equally as good. Creepy and witchy, with subtle messages surrounding persecution and loneliness, this is a book you'll want to read in front of a roaring fire or curled up in a snuggly duvet. You also might want to keep the light switch to hand...

                                                                Poetry

Fire, Burn, Cauldron Bubble: Magical Poems. Chosen by Paul Cookson and illustrated by Eilidh Muldoon

Link to publisher
Published by: Bloomsbury, Sep 2020

👍👍👍👍👍

Crackling with creativity and a sparky energy, this collection of magical poems is definitely a treat and not a trick. The cover is so stunningly beautiful, I would have bought it just for this reason. However, there's no way I'm letting it sit idle on my bookshelf. 

From DRAGONS and UNICORNS

to WIZARDS and WANDS,

let this ENCHANTING collection

of MAGICAL POEMS

put you under its SPELL.

Enchanting is definitely the word. From The Mad Magician to  The Magic Kitchen Carpet to Dragon's Breath and Potion Problems, this book will fire up the imaginations of future poets and storytellers by conjuring up the most fabulous images. There's shorter poems and longer poems interlaced with wonderful illustrations and it's a wonderful celebration of rhyme and rhythm, language and verse. 

This is an investment for any classroom or home and likely to encourage the most reluctant of readers and writers to get involved and have a play with words. In two words, it's inspiring and inventive to the point where you can't help but feel the magic. 

Monday, 18 October 2021

A History of the World in 25 Cities by Tracey Turner and Andrew Donkin, illustrated by Libby Vander Ploeg

 

                                                                Link to publisher

                                               Published by: Nosy Crow, 2nd September 2021

                                                                 👍👍👍👍👍

In our house, we've always been a big fan of Nosy Crow's collaborative titles with The National Trust. From 50 things to do before you're 11 3/4 to the Look and Say books to The Secret Diary of... series, these books have always been colourful, informative and fun. 

My excitement was, therefore, exceptionally high when I discovered that the same publisher was producing a non-fiction book in collaboration with The British Museum called 'A History of the World in 25 Cities'. Exploring human civilisation through a series of maps, this is a visual, fact-filled tour of the most populated places across our planet. 

This book is visually stunning. It's a coffee table book for kids that looks amazing, smells amazing (I haven't yet stopped breathing in the pages but don't tell anyone) and that immediately evokes a feeling of awe and respect. Working alongside The British Museum, the authors, illustrator and publisher have used exquisite detail to create a book that is meticulous and packed with a wealth of knowledge. 

Opening the pages with the children, we immediately searched for the cities we've visited or have heard most about; London, New York, Paris, Sydney, Rome and Venice. And yet, what I love most about this book is that it also covers the history of less familiar cities, both ancient and contemporary. From Jericho to Tokyo to Baghdad to Cuzco, these are cities I enjoyed finding out about, some of which I hadn't even heard of. 

For each city, there is a full double-spread map with detailed annotations, followed by a second double-spread filled with carefully crafted paragraphs of further information. For number-lovers and ease of accessibility, there is also a column or row summarising the number of bridges, number of islands and the population past and present for each city. I also loved the final spreads entitled 'Cities of Today' and 'Cities of Tomorrow' which gives an important but gentle nod to the issues we are currently facing and how cities need to change in the future. The colour schemes have been carefully chosen to match each map and everytime you dive into the pages, you notice something new. 

This is so much more than a map-book. It's a geography and history lesson rolled into one. It tells us the story of human evolution and how cities evolve with us. It explores how geographical features and historical events have affected the development of the places we live and it details the difference and similarities across continents and cultures. It's perfect for school projects or as a teaching tool in the classroom or just as a book that children can explore with their curiosity and imaginations. It's definitely an investment worth making and will be bound to delight readers of any age. 

A big thanks to Nosy Crow for providing me with a review copy. A History of the World in 25 Cities is available to buy now.  

Unbelievable Football 2 by Matt Oldfield

 Link to publisher


Published by: Wren and Rook, Hachette, 19th August 2021

👍👍👍👍👍

It's been a while since I reviewed a non-fiction book and it was an absolute joy to return it with Unbelieveable Football 2 by Matt Oldfield. With all the recent tension of the European Football Championship, the rise of women's football and the upcoming anticipation of the next World Cup in 2022, it's pretty clear that football is a much loved global sport. Did you know, however, that it has the power to change the world?

Unbelievable Football 2 explores further true tales where the game of football has been used for good or where footballers themselves have contributed to society in a powerful way. From Marcus Rashford's lockdown campaign to end food poverty to making football kits out of waste to The Street Child World Cup, this is an incredible insight into how football really has made a difference across the planet.

Having a football mad daughter, I am more than familiar with the names of football grounds, famous footballers and the latest football kits. What I didn't have a clue about, however, was how long football dates back and how instrumental it has been throughout the years. As a result, the stories in this book simply blew me away. It's an engaging history lesson through the beloved angle of football and so fascinating that it's immediately sent me reaching for book 1. I particularly enjoyed the story of 'Panyee Football Club and Their Fantastic Floating Pitch', 'Mahatma Gandhi's Passive Resisters' and 'The Supergoats Who Fell in Love with Football.'

This book is perfect for both football fans and history lessons. Written for a middle-grade audience in an accessible, easy-to-read font, it has an informal, conversational tone and reaches out to engage the reader. It's one of those ideas which make you wonder why it hasn't be done before and it would be wonderful to see more of these non-fiction books on the shelves. 

A big thanks to Hachette for providing me with a review copy. Unbelieveable Football 2 is available to buy now. 

Sunday, 17 October 2021

Maggie Blue and the Dark World by Anna Goodall


 Link to publisher

Published by: Guppy Books, February 2021

👍👍👍👍

I have been wanting to sink my teeth into this middle-grade fantasy adventure ever since I laid eyes on the incredible cover art by Sandra Dieckmann. Seven months later, I've finally managed it and boy, was it a good time of year to settle down with this tale. It's as dark and chilling as the encroaching Autumn nights; intriguing, twisty and with a heroine you just want to shower with TLC. 

Few people notice Maggie Blue and that's the way she likes it. But when Ida, a girl she's drawn to, disappears, Maggie realises she has little choice but to follow her into another world if she has any chance of saving her. 

Joined by Hoagy, an irritable talking cat, Maggie journeys to Sun City where happiness is on tap. Soon the city's ruler, Eldrow, has taken her under her wing but what exactly does he have in store for her? And where is Ida?

Sunday Times Children's book of the week and with a cover endorsement from the wonderful Kiran Millwood Hargrave, this not a cheerful read. It is, however, completely compelling. Maggie's life in our world is lonely and troubled, the world she steps into is unsettling and Eldrow's hunt for happiness is disturbing. Yet, this feels like a novel of truths. Truth about the grim reality of life, about what it's like to feel alone and about finding your way through the unknown with nothing but bravery and determination on your side. 

Maggie is a beautifully written heroine. She jumps off the page with a vivid reality and an aching hollowness that makes you want to embrace her into your family. Ordinary and yet extraordinary, she seems refreshingly comfortable with who she is, despite her heartache. This made for an interesting comparison with Ida, a girl who appears to have everything that Maggie does not. Alongside Maggie, Hoagy provides the humour and Esme, eccentricity and warmth.

For me, the dark world had echoes of the Wizard of Oz and I can't quite put my finger on why. With fantastical creatures, moon witches and people that can morph into different forms, this is highly original world-building and yet some elements felt familiar in a comforting way. Sometimes, I felt disorientated by this dark land but I think that is the point as we accompany Maggie and the author on their exploration of what happines is and how to obtain it. 

With a sequel on the way and lots on unanswered questions, there is still a lot to uncover in the world of Maggie Blue. But with darkness gathering and Hoagy by her side, prepare for the unexpected!

A big thanks to Guppy Books for providing me with a review copy. 

Tuesday, 5 October 2021

Wishyouwas by Alexandra Page and Penny Neville-Lee

 

                                                                        Link to publisher

                                               Published by: Bloomsbury, 30th September 2021

                                                                    👍👍👍👍👍

Nothing seems to go straight to our hearts more in stories than adorable furry characters. From Winnie the Pooh to Paddington to Stuart Little to even The Gruffalo and The Tiger that Came to Tea (okay, maybe not so adorable but definitely adored), these timeless characters will ever be etched in our memories and still raise the fondest of smiles in years to come. 

Well, meet a new addition to the 'adorable' clan. Debut author Alexandra Page, alongside Penny Neville-Lee and Bloomsbury, presents to you Wishyouwas, a second-class gatherer who lives below the streets of London with his huddle of Sorters-the guardians of lost mail. 

It's Christmas in 1952 and the streets of London are shrouded in smog. For lonely Penny Black, the festive season is looking bleak, until she meets an unusual talking creature in her Uncle's post office. 

Wishyouwas is looking for lost letters. As he introduces Penny to the Sorters' secret world below the streets, Penny is desperate to become part of it. But humans and Sorters don't mix and big trouble is lurking. Not only is Stanley Scrawl-the Royal Mail rat-catcher-determined to ruin the Sorters' secret existence, Penny must work out whether she even has a place amongst them. 

This is the most wonderful Christmas story, without being overtly Christmassy. Perfect to be read all year round, you won't want to let this world, with it's glorious characters, go. Alexandra Page effortlessly mails us back to 1952 when smog filled the streets, the Queen was new to the throne and letters were of the utmost importance. Even though this is post-war Britain, the novel still has the classic feel of Carrie's War, Letters From the Lighthouse and other brilliantly told historical novels. 

The story itself is charm personified from the first page to the last. The characters are gorgeous and the high-action plot, with it's desperate stakes, is twister than London's underground tunnels. Penny is an isolated, curious and relatable heroine with a caring heart, a strong moral compass and post bags of bravery. Wishyouwas is hopeful, warm and endearing and don't be fooled by Stanley Scrawl who conceals the depths of his evilness as effectively as the smog. As for the other, geniusly-named, Sorters- well you'll probably all have your individual favourites, but ThisWayUp particularly earns a stamp of approval from me. 

The Sorter's world is highly imaginative and brought to life with exceptional detail. Still, the London setting keeps us grounded in a believable reality. It's magical without being 'magic', it's warm without being sickly sweet and the tears will creep up unexpectedly through the smiles. The Sorter's underground world is vivid, full of heart and yet so full of industrious (and serious) business, you can't help be amused by it. Just watch out for the compass point. YOUCH!

Overall, this is a cracking debut with all the makings of a classic. Even better, there's going to be a sequel! All I need now is for someone to write me a letter that gets lost so a Sorter, preferably Wishyouwas, can deliver it. Now what are the chances in this day and age...

Wishyouwas is out now and available to buy from bookstores and online.

New release: The Fire Fox by Alexandra Page and Stef Murphy

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