Thursday, 26 January 2023

UPCOMING RELEASE: The Tiger Who Sleeps Under My Chair by Hannah Foley

Link to publisher

Published by: Head of Zeus Books, 2nd February 2023

👍👍👍👍👍

Told via a dual narrative across two time zones, this new middle grade release from Hannah Foley is a powerful read. Set on the stunning Jurassic coastline, with references to Mary Anning, it offers a real but hopeful insight into mental health, families and friendships...

1884: Emma Linden has spent her life isolated in the attic for fear of  aggravating her illness if she ventures into the outside world. But when her beloved brother, James, becomes obsessed with a tiger at the museum, Emma starts to realise that he is the one who needs help. 

2023: When Jude finds Rosie Linden after she's been missing for four days, he realises she is in urgent need of help. As he helps her towards recovery, a delicate friendship blooms. Can Jude help Rosie uncover the secrets of her past?

This stunning front cover by Lucy Rose Illustration promises great things from the off, although I admit that as someone who reads for escape and whose personal preference is light-hearted, funny or fantastical stories, I was slightly nervous to start reading. I needn't have been. This is an easily accessible book, perfect for KS2 and KS3 readers, which draws you from the very first page. Although the story explores topics of a serious nature, Hannah Foley handles them with knowledge, experience and a beautifully light touch. The characters are instantly loveable - I particularly loved James and Jude - and the reader is swept up by the strong bonds that tie them together. 

The novel is educational and enthralling both at the same time. Through the two narratives, the author raises awareness of mental health issues and how attitudes and treatments have changed over the years. She also champions our invaluable keyworkers through Alice, the paramedic, and the power of having friends and family to care, nurture and support those struggling with their mental health (everyone needs a Jude and a Dillis). Finally, Hannah Foley highlights the importance of nature when sustaining and recovering our mental health; the Jurassic coast and Kersbrook House feel like characters in their own right and the constant reference to the woods, fossils and creativity brings a fresh and vivid vitality to the story. 

If that isn't enough to excite readers, there's more. A very real and compelling baddie in Malcolm Greep, a tragic accident and a snowy rescue. Most of all though, I loved the analogy of the tiger, which was so cleverly and subtly written, readers need to experience it for themselves. Hannah Foley then leaves us with the lasting and hopeful message, again gleaned through the dual narrative, that as a society we are moving away from ignorance and stigmatisation and treating people who struggle with their mental health as wonderful human beings who deserve to be loved, cared for and understood.

A big thanks to Netgalley and Head of Zeus Books for allowing me a review copy. The Tiger Who Sleeps Under My Chair is released next week, 2nd February 2023. 
 

Tuesday, 24 January 2023

Yesterday Crumb and the Teapot of Chaos by Andy Sagar

 

Published by: Orion, Hachette, 16th March 2023

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A year ago, I picked up Andy Sagar's Yesterday Crumb and the Storm in A Teacup and found myself immersed in a fantastical world full of tea witchery and magical creatures, all housed within a walking teashop. Twelve months later, Yesterday Crumb is back and - wow! - have things moved on. For if you're expecting to drink in more of the cosy atmosphere inside Dwimmerly End, think again as the story explodes into a full-blown epic fantasy which crackles with tension and wild, wild magic. 

Yesterday Crumb is looking forward to watching the Wild Feast in London. But when her beloved Dwimmerly End is stolen, with Miss. Dumpling inside, Yesterday is forced to enter the competition to win it back. 

Things very quickly go from bad to worse when, on top of trying to win the competition, the Faerie Queen accuses Yesterday of being responsible for the disappearances of some of the Faerie Court. Ordered to prove her innocence, Yesterday and her friends investigate, only to find that something truly terrible is going on...

This second novel is as volatile as Yesterday's magical teas, exploding across the page in every sense of the word. There's a cacophony of new characters, wondrous world-building and brooding battles all framed within our familiar reference of London. Whereas in the first novel, we see Yesterday exploring her magical ability under the guidance of her mentor, Miss. Dumpling, Yesterday and her friends are now very much on their own and outside the safe environment of their teashop home. There's villains galore with the menacing ice of Mr. Weep underlying them all but will Yesterday be able to overcome everyone who is against her?

This is a story about a girl exploring the true extent of her strength and power. It's about prejudice, friendship, family, right and wrong and the complexity of the world we live in. Ultimately, though, like many fantasy novels it is about the battle between good and evil and how our family history does not need to define us. The plot is pacey and packed with problems for Yesterday to overcome; from reasoning with merpeople to a cook-off with a pair of werewolves to caged monsters roaming free. And the action is far from over as Andy Sagar leads up to what promises to be an inncredible book three. 

So, if you're a big fan of magical fantasy, such as Nevermoor, this is not a series to miss. Despite the dramatic twists and turns and the freezing frostiness of Mr. Weep, it's still impossible not to be warmed and enchanted by the excitement of Yesterday's tea magic and heartwarming friendships. Magic and food and drink combined? What is not to love?

A big thanks to NetGalley and Hachette (Orion) for allowing me a review copy. Yesterday Crumb and the Teapot of Chaos is available to pre-order and released in March 2023. 


Monday, 23 January 2023

UPCOMING RELEASE: Where The River Takes Us by Lesley Parr

Link to publisher

Published by: Bloomsbury, 16th March 2023

👍👍👍👍
 

Set in Wales in 1974, Lesley Parr brings us her third historical novel which explores the impact of the miners' strikes and the three day working week on a group of friends living in a Welsh village.

Thirteen year old Jason is struggling to come to terms with the death of his parents. But things get an awful lot tougher when the three day working week means his older brother, Ritchie, can no longer pay the bills. 

As Ritchie gets sucked into working for a criminal gang to avoid them being separated, Jason becomes increasingly desperate to get his hands on some honest money. So when he hears there's a reward for finding proof of a beast roaming the valley, Jason and his friends set off to search for it...

With Lesley Parr's effortless writing and a fast-moving plot, this is an old school adventure to rival Stand By Me, The Famous Five and The Goonies. Set in the outdoors in freezing February, Jason and his friends take us on their journey along the river, past barns, churches and a very scary bull in search of a huge cat. There's camaradie and clashes aplenty as the group of four bond and bicker amid very high stakes, plus there's a whole heap of obstacles for them to overcome, including a pair of bullies. 

In truth though, this novel is not really about searching for an elusive beast. What it is about is community, hardship, friendship, family and grief. Lesley Parr handles Jason's devastating loss with truth and sensitivity and then balances it with a big dose of heart and humour that can only come from close friends, leaving us with tears on one page and smiles on the next. It's an insight into the working class conditions of the 1970's and human nature at its best. Digging even deeper than that though, the very heart of the book is also about making the right choices in the worst circumstances, about finding the best path forward - literally and metaphorically - and about hope. For me, there were also echoes of Billy Elliott, but without the ballet.

So, if you're looking for a brilliant written, down-to-earth novel that's more about brotherhood (with a brilliant female friend too) than finding a beast, this is definitely one to add to your to-be-read pile. With a dramatic and heart-racing end, will Jason be separated from his brother and his friends?

A big thanks to Bloomsbury and NetGalley for allowing me a review copy. Where The River Takes Us is available to pre-order and out on the 16th March 2023.



Thursday, 19 January 2023

Valentine Crow and Mr. Death by Jenni Spangler

Link to publisher
 

Published by: Simon and Schuster, 19th January 2023

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As an aspiring writer in an competitive industry, you hear lots of advice about creating "a standout concept" - something which will make the industry gatekeepers stand to attention. This is understandable as surely readers want exactly the same thing...a book that will grab them from the opening pages and make them forget everything beyond the story. 

For me, and hopefully for middle-grade readers too, this is one of those books. Fabulously different, wickedly funny with a daring concept, Valentine Crow and Mr. Death is a book I'm going to be raving about for the forseeable future...

Valentine Crow is finally old enough to leave the Foundling Hospital and start an apprenticeship. But he definitely isn't his expecting his new boss to be Mr. Death. As Death teaches him how to reap souls, Valentine begins to get used to his new life. That is, until he finds out the next on his list of souls to collect is his best friend, Philomena Sparrow. Is there any way he can save his only friend?

With wonderfully unique world-building and sharp, witty writing, this book lives up to its spectacular front cover, weaving an enthralling story that is funny and heartfelt rather than scary. Yes, there are creepy moments and tackling the topic of death is certainly not an easy subject - meaning this story will not be for everyone. But underneath the humour is a story of friendship, love and loss, a beautifully thought-provoking and insightful view of death...and a pain in the backside boss called Linda, because, of course, even Death has a boss. 

Valentine is a gorgeously created character - raised in the Foundling Hospital, he is eager-to-please, eager to see the world and extra eager to belong. I love the dynamics between him and Death and how Death endeavours to learn how to look after him. Although Jenni Spangler's representation of what happens after we die is very different to other books, such as The House With Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson, and may also be very different to what young readers believe or have been taught, I did find some true beauty in Spangler's portrayal. Certainly, tackling a subject which can be considered taboo, it's a great way of initiating discussion and I found myself soothed as well as entertained by this novel, with the fear of Death seeping away. 

But, if you're worried this novel is going to be too deep, fear not. The cast of hilarious and endearing characters provides laughs aplenty. With two very chatty ghosts, an adorable dog, mysterious librarians and The Never, this is a rollercoaster of entertainment and action which gently tackles the ultimate question: Can we cheat Death? The format of the book is easily accessible and I loved the unusual way the text was broken up with illustrated thoughts and explanations - the kindred spirits page being my favourite. Full of truth and hope, this tale reassured me that our loved ones are never too far away. 

A big thanks to NetGalley and Simon and Schuster for allowing me a review copy. Valentine Crow and Mr. Death is available to buy from today, 19th January 2023. 

Saturday, 7 January 2023

Frank and Bert: The One Where Bert Learns To Ride A Bike by Chris Naylor Ballesteros



Published by: Nosy Crow, 12th January 2023

👍👍👍👍👍

From the author of The Suitcase comes the second in the series of Frank and Bert. Their first picture book, Frank and Bert, saw the duo playing a rather hapless and hilarious game of 'Hide and Seek', whereas this time, Bert is learning to ride a bike...

Bert is learning to ride a bike but, dear me, he's not very good at it. Frank offers to help but when he lets go, Bert is cross. Soon Frank comes up with a solution but it's not long before he's the one who needs help. Can Bert save the day and get them down the hill?

Totally relatable to the activities children enjoy doing with their friends or their parents, this is a fun but heartwarming tale of two friends supporting each other and having each other's backs when things get tough. Learning to ride a bike is hard, especially when there are plenty of obstacles in the way, but if your best friend is right behind you, then what can go wrong?

This was a hit with all three of my children but especially with my eldest daughter. Having special needs means learning to ride a bike has been a huge challenge for her - one she has recently achieved with some special adaptations. The repetitive language, simple dialogue and entertaining pictures made the story accessible to her and the humorous ending made her laugh out loud and request the story on repeat. Certainly, while I read the story over and over, I saw her perseverance and determination echoed in Bert, while Frank is the championing friend that everyone needs. 

We're really hoping that there will be more titles in this series. Frank and Bert are a totally endearing duo and we look forward to them tackling other tricky rites of passage in a warm and entertaining way. 

A big thanks to Nosy Crow and NetGalley for allowing me a review copy. Frank and Bert: The One Where Bert Learns To Ride A Bike is available to buy from Jan 12th. 

Friday, 6 January 2023

Superheroes Always Fight Back...Or Do They? by Kate Thompson and Clare Elsom



Published by: Welbeck Publishing, 5th January 2023

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Following on from the super successful Superheroes Don't Get Scared comes the fabulous new release Superheroes Always Fight Back...Or Do They? If it's at all possible, this book is bolder, brighter and equally as brilliant as Kate Thompson's and Clare Elsom's first collaboration, making them a dream team picture book duo who have hit upon a commercial and canny concept which aims to help young readers address their worries and anxieties.

Arthur wishes he was a mega-fast and super strong hero who could fight the baddie that lives next door and banish her. That's until Grandpa teaches him that the best kind of superhero act is to be kind. Arthur's not convinced - his favourite superheroes are ALWAYS fighting. But maybe there's more to their story than he realised.

Tackling the damaging misconception that you're weak if you feel scared and you're weak if you don't fight back, these books use brilliantly inventive superheroes - such as Gizmo Girl and Super SoundWave - to showcase how real superheroes behave. Yes, their external superpowers might seem impressive and maybe even tough but it's worth observing the bigger picture to spot where their true superpower lies. 

What we especially loved about this picture book is that Kate Thompson not only portrays kindness as the greatest possible superpower, but explores WHY people need kindness. Although the superheroes quickly put a stop to any unkind and hurtful behaviours, they uncover the reasons behind why the baddies are being 'bad'. This not only adds an extra layer of empathy to the text but allows young readers to question whether baddies are 'bad' or simply acting badly because they are angry, hungry, lonely etc. As a result, Arthur then follows suit and comes to a satisfying resolution with his own 'baddie'. 

Clare Elsom's vibrant illustrations fully bring this picture book to life, immersing little ones in what is a super engaging story. Readers are sure to be delighted by such unique and dynamic superheroes and inspired to create their own. There's a lovely gentle nod to disability throughout the book too, fully embracing the fact that nothing can stop anyone from being a superhero. Such a powerful read speaks to all ages and, in our opinion, should be made available in every school and library. Let's spread the word about the power of kindness.

A big thanks to Kate Thompson and Welbeck Publishing for allowing me a review copy. Superheroes Always Fight Back...Or Do They? is available to buy now via the link above or other well-known online retailers. 

Wednesday, 4 January 2023

Darwin's Super Pooping Worm Spectacular by Polly Owen and Gwen Millward, including author interview and competition



Published by: Quarto, 5th January 2023

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One of the great things about reviewing books and being an aspiring writer myself is getting to champion projects that I've seen develop from draft to published book! Today's narrative non-fiction picture book by Polly Owen, illustrated by Gwen Millward and published by Quarto, is one of those projects and so we're going to celebrate extra hard with both a review AND an author interview. 

Charles Darwin was born in 1809 and is most famous for his scientific Theory of Evolution. BUT, did you know he was fascinated by earthworms? His research on them spanned for over 40 years and, even though he was ridiculed for being so hung up on such insignificant creatures, they turned out to be VERY significant indeed and vital to life on earth. It's not for me to tell you more though. Instead, why not dive into this fabulous, informative and beautifully illustrated hardback book which documents Darwin's fascinating investigations and findings.

Charles Darwin was convinced that worms had a superpower but what was it? Supersight? Superhearing? Maybe a super sensitive sense of smell? Possibly! But wait...there's more. Could it be that their poo holds their biggest superpower of all? Turn the pages to discover how one man came to realise that the humble earthworm is the most important species of all. 

With accessible text, gorgeous pictures and valuable input from the worms themselves, this book is a fun exploration of Charles Darwin's scientific discoveries, perfect for young adventurers, nature lovers and minibeast fans. It's also a valuable resource for any teacher to use in the classroom to support their topic work and science lessons. Not only is the story highly informative, it is also incredibly funny and deliberately designed to peak the interest of curious learners by making biology interesting and real. There's some wormy facts at the end to further support the text as well as some crucial information about the threat worms are under and how we can help.

This is a book that champions the underdogs - or should I say the undergrounders - and the overlooked. It reminds humans young and old not to take these creatures for granted or see them as pests. It also encourages children to follow their heart and their passions, however unusual, and to not give up on what they believe is important. It is an ode and a tribute to both the worms and the scientists, past and future, and how much we need them. This is narrative non-fiction at it's finest; engaging and entertaining with plenty of poo thrown in for good measure. 

Available to purchase from today, thank you to Polly and Quarto for allowing me a review copy. Scroll down to read our author interview.

      AUTHOR INTERVIEW WITH POLLY OWEN

Hi Polly, congratulations on your debut picture book. How does it feel to hold your published book in your hands?

It's really amazing. After writing for a long time and facing rejections and near misses, it's hard to believe it's real until the book is actually in your hands. But now it's here, it's on my shelf, and it's the first thing I see in the morning! I have Gwen Millward to thank for how amazing it looks and Quarto for producing such a beautiful, sparkly book.

 

How long have you been writing for and what do you love to write?

I have been writing since my daughter was around one, so ten years. It started as a hobby, then I started taking it more and more seriously, joining a critique group, entering competitions and getting an agent.

I have always loved writing rhyme and silly, cheeky stories but I also love nature and history. Darwin's Super-Pooping Worm Spectacular was the first narrative non-fiction I had written.

 

Your picture book is an account of Darwin’s fascination with earthworms. What inspired you to write about his research?

Two people: my mum and my daughter. My daughter is really into nature, particularly snails and worms, so my mum bought her a membership to the Earthworm Society. My mum also told me about Darwin's book on Earthworms. I tried to find a children's version for my daughter but there wasn't one. So I decided to read Darwin's book myself and was hooked straight away. I was taken by how perfect it was for a picture book and was surprised nobody had done it before.

 

Tell us a bit about your book’s  journey to publication with Quarto. What was the time frame between you writing the story and its release?

I wrote my first draft in 2019 and my wonderful critters (thank you, Tracy!) gave me lots of useful feedback. In November 2020 I booked a one to one session with an editor, through 'I Am In Print' (who provide great opportunities for authors). I met Lucy Brownridge from Quarto, who liked my story and asked for some changes. I did two edits with the help of my agent, Emily, and I signed the contract in Oct 2021. Lucy had illustrator, Gwen Millward, in mind and I was thrilled when she able to join us. One year later (5th Jan 2023) the book was published! So, it took three and a half years in total!

 

Aside from loving reading about poop, what would you like young readers to take away from the book?

There are a few things. Firstly, the importance of earthworms to our planet. How they make our soil rich and nutritious and help our plants and food to grow. Secondly, that Darwin didn't just study exotic animals, he had a real passion for earthworms, which is often forgotten. I would also like it to inspire children to follow their passions, however quirky. Darwin was mocked for his study of earthworms but his groundbreaking discoveries only happened because he wasn't discouraged.

 

What are you working on now? Would you like to write more non-fiction?

I would love to write a follow up to this book and more non-fiction, but I'll always love writing in rhyme. I have a few stories on the go at the moment!

 

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers out there?

Everything I can think of has been said before, but it's just write what you love.  Entertain yourself. You can keep one eye on the market for niches or something unique, even if it's a unique take on something old. But you have to enjoy doing it. I would keep writing forever, published or not!

The other piece of advice is, most of my luck has happened when meeting people directly, so if you can afford a festival or a one to one, you may increase your chances of selling a book, or at the very least, getting some great feedback.

And for feedback all year round, definitely join a critique group. I would never have persisted without the support and encouragement of my wonderful critting friends.


Thanks Polly and best of luck with Darwin’s Super-Pooping Worm Spectacular


Darwin's Super-Pooping Worm Spectacular is released in the UK today, Thursday 5th January. Why not check out this competition run by Quarto publishing for a chance to win a Worm Explorer Activity Kit and a copy of the book for your school. (Also open to home educators.)



UPCOMING RELEASE: The Tiger Who Sleeps Under My Chair by Hannah Foley

Link to publisher Published by: Head of Zeus Books, 2nd February 2023 👍👍👍👍👍 Told via a dual narrative across two time zones, this new m...