Monday 4 December 2023

It's Christmas! Our seasonal round-up for 2023..

 You Can't Let An Elephant Pull Santa's Sleigh by Patricia Cleveland-Peck and David Tazzyman

Link to publisher

Published by: Bloomsbury, 12th October 2023

We always enjoy reviewing books in this series and this festive edition will ensure your Christmas gets off to a jolly start. Full of silly scenarios, rather than an actual story, it's a book that readers of all ages can enjoy together and one which will have you turning the pages in delight again...and again...and again...

An elephant pulling Santa's sleigh? Raccoons decorating your Christmas tree? And a walrus putting up your Christmas lights? Oh no, no, no, that will never do. If you want your Christmas to go smoothly, you'll need to adhere to the warnings and find some sensible alternatives. Otherwise, who knows who you'll end up kissing under the mistletoe...

Packed with hilarious illustrations by David Tazzyman, this is a book that celebrates both words and pictures. You only have to look at Santa's expression on the front cover to get a glimpse of the riotous fun in store. Plus, little ones can use the silly inspiration to create fantastic scenarios of their own. Who do they think should pull Santa's sleigh...or not?

Every page-turn builds on the last, escalating the excitement, with a lovely conclusion that pulls everything together at the end. As always with this series, the animals steal the show, making it extra appealing for younger readers. Animals + Christmas + a bit of bonkers humour = you CAN'T let this book go unread.

A big thanks to NetGalley and Bloomsbury for allowing us a review copy. 

There Was a Young Reindeer Who Swallowed A Present by Kaye Baillie and Diane Ewen

Link to publisher

Published by MacMillan, 26th October 2023

Keeping the mood light-hearted, There Was A Young Reindeer Who Swallowed A Present offers another dose of festive fun. Based on the well-known rhyme, There Was An Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly, this is the Christmassy version - although there is also an Easter and Halloween one as well!

There was a young reindeer who swallowed a present. Did it fill them up? Obviously not because they then go on to swallow a elf, a bauble and a tree. Surely they won't swallow Santa himself..?

Nothing screams fun more than cumulative rhyme and this treat of a book has all the joyfulness of the original version. The illustrations from Diane Ewen are a delight, adding in lots of brilliant detail AND an extra layer of adorability to the narrative - just look at those reindeer's butter-wouldn't-melt eyes! There's mounting tension as the story progresses and little ones will be turning the pages faster than this reindeer can gobble things up to see how the story ends. No spoilers here though! You'll have to find out for yourselves. 

A big thanks to NetGalley and Macmillan for allowing us a review copy. 

Ho, Ho, Ho! A Pirate's Christmas for Me by Red, illustrated by Jack Button
Published by: Sweet Cherry Publishing, 2023
This rhyming story is great for anyone looking for a Christmas story with a difference. How do a pair of pirates link to the concept of Christmas? You'll have to read it to find out but it's a lovely and original idea which also celebrates the love between siblings...

Nic and Kris Beard are twins who are very, very different. While Nic is naughty, Kris is nice. But when Nic's actions lead Kris to fall overboard, he gets washed up on an island of woodworking elves. Will remorseful Nic ever find his brother again and what does the future have in store for them?

Inventive, thought-provoking and full of piratey fun, the warmth of this story comes across in the gorgeous illustrations by Jack Button. The fact it's so different makes it instantly memorable and it's a perfect read for warring siblings who, underneath it all, love the bones of each other. The ending is wonderfully imaginative and plays on the idea of Saint Nick and Kris Kringle - names which little ones may have heard of but may not be so familiar with. Christmas + Pirates = A winning combination!

A big thanks to NetGalley and Sweet Cherry Publishing for allowing us a review copy. 

Gnome Alone at Christmas by Nick Pine, illustrated by Di Brookes

Link to publisher

Published by: Hachette, 12th October 2023

If you're after a comical Christmas caper then this may be the Christmas story for you. Perfect for 5-9's, this is a simple, humorous and heartwarming story set at home. But, if you're expecting anything like the famous film, Home Alone, there are more differences than similarities, starting with Tommy the gnome. 

Noah loves Christmas more than anything. But this Christmas, his gran is poorly, his sister doesn't want to join in with anything and everything feels completely unfestive. 
So when his parents go and visit his gran on Christmas Eve, Noah takes the opportunity to make the most of things and decorate the house to cheer everyone up. But when Tommy the magical gnome appears on the scene to help, things might not go the way Noah planned... 

In some ways this feels like a cumulative story just like There Was a Young Reindeer Who Swallowed A Present. Tommy's magic keeps going wrong and the ensuing chaos goes from bad to worse. From an army of gingerbread people going on the rampage inside to a reindeer rampaging around outside, how is Noah going to put everything right before his parents come home?

Tommy and Noah are a great duo and we'd definitely love to read more adventures involving Tommy. Full of warmth as well as magical mishaps, he's the sort of help you'd love at Christmastime, even if he does make a mountain of mess...

The Ice Children by M.G. Leonard, illustrated by Penny Neville-Lee

Link to publisher

Published by: Macmillan, 2nd November 2023

If you're looking for something more wintry than Christmassy, then this icy cold story is a great alternative. Don't worry about freezing though. It might be about a magical land filled with frost and snow but there's enough love in it to keep you toasty warm.

When children are found frozen in a London park, including Bianca's own brother, no one has a clue why such a terrible thing is happening. But when they realise the children's hearts are still beating, Bianca decides that there's still a chance to save them. 

Her determination to solve the mystery takes her on a journey to a winter wonderland where some sinister characters are determined to thwart her attempts to find the truth. Can Bianca find a way to free the Ice Children without becoming one herself...

With strong echoes of The Snow Queen, this a fantasy story about sibling love but with an urgent eco message too. Grounded in the issues of today's contemporary world, it whirls fiction and fact together to create a magical yet thought-provoking adventure. The world-building is enchanting and reminded me of both Narnia and the Moomins Winter Wonderland and while some of the parallels to The Snow Queen are clear, it isn't necessary for today's generation to know the original story. 

I particularly loved the villains in this adventure. Cleverly crafted and complex, they really hooked me in. As the mystery unravels and the pieces slot together, it becomes clear that the ending is going to be slightly different to conventional fantasy tales. Yet, with more twists and turns than a ski slope, this one will keep you guessing until the very end. 

A big thanks to NetGalley and Macmillan for allowing us a review copy. 

Step Father Christmas by L.D Lapinski

Link to publisher

Published by: Hachette, 12th October 2023

If you're looking for something short, sweet and a little bit different then Step Father Christmas is a must read. Split into 25 chapters, to match the countdown to the big day, this is a concept that's so brilliant, it makes you wonder why it hasn't been done before...

Harper loves spending Christmas with her mum and brother. So when her mum announces that she's invited her new boyfriend to stay for the Christmas period, she's taken aback. She's even more taken aback when she discovers that Nick bears a striking resemblance to Santa. The more time she spends with him, the more Harper becomes convinced that he actually IS Santa. But can she prove it or will she be proven wrong?

This novel was such a joy to read that I struggled to put it down. It's has great characters, a fast-pace and the text is super accessible - never mind reading it over 25 days, my middle daughter read it in a weekend! Both of us loved the strange occurances, the Christmassy vibe and the constant musing of 'is he or isn't he Santa?'.Whatever the answer is, this is a great portrayal of family life which explores the challenges, emotions and postive elements of changing dynamics. Add in the magical elements like a random reindeer on the roof and snow in ONLY Harper's garden and you've got something really special. The extra good news is that this might be returning next year...

A big thanks to NetGalley and Hachette for allowing us a review copy. 

The Christmas Carrolls by Mel Taylor-Bessent, illustrated by Selom Sunu

Link to publisher

Published by: Farshore, 12th October 2023

If you're looking for a completely over-the-top, in-your-face, all-out Christmassy story, then the Christmas Carrolls series is a must-read. Following the success of  Book 1 and Book 2, The Christmas Club is the third novel to look out for...

Holly Carroll and her family are off to New York after winning the competition for 'Most Christmassy Family'. But when they get invited to audition for the mysterious and highly secretive Christmas Club, the family is forced to make a difficult decision: fulfil their commitment to the New York Christmas parade or chase their only chance to bring about their biggest dream ever...

For me, thanks to its brilliant characters - particularly the animal ones - this series has got more hilarious with each instalment. Riotously funny but with a serious message at it's heart, it offers at least several laughs on each page, as well as a massive dose of upbeat Christmassy cheer. 

As ever, Holly - with all her optimism and warmth - is on a mission to help others and spread as much festive love as possible. But again, she is faced with difficult questions and truths: what is Christmas really all about and is she missing the point? I really enjoyed her inner struggle and the way Holly learns from others around her. Seb and his daughter are great characters and watch out for a cameo appearance from Santa himself - adding a great fun twist to the end of the story. 

The setting of New York was perfect, enabling the story to go BIG. Reggie, Sue and gorgeous Chilli may be the shining stars of the story but The Big Apple also felt like an incredible character in itself. With the city acting as a backdrop for lots of Christmassy action, the story ramped up to a tense conclusion which celebrated both failure and success. With themes of being true to yourself, friendship, love, compassion and connection, reading The Christmas Carrolls is like stopping for a warm marshmallowy hot chocolate in the middle of a frenetic Christmas market. Oh, and watch out for the real name of Holly's mum - it's brilliant!

Juniper's Christmas by Eoin Colfer, illustrated by Chaaya Prabhat

Link to publisher

Published by: HarperCollins, 26th October 2023

The hardback edition of this book, with its incredible cover by Chaaya Prabhat, is one of the most beautiful Christmas books I've ever held in my hands. Open the pages, however, and you'll find a gorgeously unique story told in a classic storytelling style...

It's been ten years since Santa hung up his sleigh reins and went into hiding. But when Juniper's mum goes missing, she stumbles across a mysterious man called Niko in a London park and realises that he must be the Santa that gave up on Christmas. 

Desperate and alone, Juniper takes on the task of persuading Niko to help her find her mum and protect the park from its ambitious new keeper. But it's not long before she's saving Christmas itself. Will Santa return to his duties or will the world lose the festive season forever..?

This is a beautifully complex tale, perfect for those looking for a more challenging read. Eoin Colfer takes us on a journey that follows both Juniper's story and explores what Christmas means on a human level. With lots of magical and real-life elements colliding - such as flying reindeer, magical sacks, a criminal gang and a London park housing a community of homeless people - it allows readers to consider whether the human world is better off with or without Christmas and how true magic can spread love, hope and empathy to those who need it and those who think they don't. 

There's a cracking mix of characters to discover between the pages of this book and I particularly loved both Duchess and the villains. There's adventure, humour, grief, heartbreak and hope - oh, and some elves on an urgent tracking mission across Europe. I loved the contemporary setting of London and particularly the London park and it's been wonderful to read a range of Christmassy books this year that are set in different locations to the North Pole and which focus very much of the human element of Christmas.

And we're still reading...

The Snow Girl by Sophie Anderson, illustrated by Melissa Castrillon

Link to publisher

Published by: Usborne, October 2023

We're only halfway through this novel, which is a new release from one of our favourite authors, Sophie Anderson. However, from what we've read so far, this is set to become another wintry classic with stunning descriptions and a timeless feel...

When Tasha moves to her Grandpa's farm, she finds the first fall of snow incredibly special and, based on the story her grandpa has told her, she builds a snow girl. 

Desperate for a friend, Tasha wishes with all her heart that her creation will come to life and soon, she is spending the winter nights having adventures with the magical Alyana. But winter isn't going to last for ever... What will Tasha and Alyana do when spring comes? 

Based on Russian folklore, this is definitely the sort of novel you'll want to curl up with in front of the fire. Its soothing, lullaby-infused language whirls around you like snow in the air and transports you to a winter wonderland that feels both beautiful and intoxicating. Tasha is a relatable heroine who is experiencing very real fears and anxieties and yet, as we accompany her on her journey, we see her connection with both the natural world and Alyana begin to heal her. We're going to have to read on, though, to find out how the story progresses...

From what we're read so far, there's strong themes of community woven throughout the story as well as a focus on that special relationship between child and grandparent. There's also a wonderful celebration of the beauty of winter as well as the real acknowledgement of how harsh and dangerous it can also be. We are particularly loving the rural farm and woodland setting and the strong sense of wonder. 

Also recommended: 

The Christmasaurus series

The Snowman by Michael Morpurgo

Tinsel by Sibeal Pounder

And why not look at our previous Christmas round-ups to get some further inspiration:

Round-up 2022

Round-up 2021

Sunday 19 November 2023

UPCOMING RELEASE! Bronte Tempestra and the Lightning Steeds

What with our Halloween round-up and some fantastic new middle-grade releases taking up all our attention, it's been hard to fit anything else into our reading slots. But we can never resist a chapter book and, along with the return of some of our favourites, there is something new to get excited about in 2024. YA author, Bex Hogan, has a debut CB series launching on the 1st February and it's definitely one to watch out for...

Bronte Tempestra and the Lightning Steeds by Bex Hogan, illustrated by Hannah McCaffery

Published by: Piccadilly Press, 1st February 2024


Packed full of pacy action, the first in this new series sees Bronte Tempestra follow her dreams of being a knight. But what does being a knight entail exactly..?

Bronte, Princess of the Storm Kingdom, knows what she be the first princess to ever train to become a knight. But when she heads off to knight school, she is surprised to find that the knights are more interested in bravado than being brave. Is saving and protecting kingdoms really second to showing off? 

But when Bronte finds out that the Lightning Steeds from her kingdom have gone missing, leaving the thunder trolls to cause havoc in their absence, Bronte takes matters into her own hands and sets off on a quest to find the root of all the strange happenings in the realm. 

This is a great concept which places a strong, female character centre stage. We loved how Bronte knows exactly who she wants to be and how much she cares about her kingdom. With bags of agency and a fighting spirit, you just know that this is a girl set for lots of adventures and that we, as readers, are definitely going to enjoy riding along with her. 

The world-building is brilliantly done with a cleverly constructed setting (again paving the way for lots of future adventures) and a cast of fun and creative characters. We loved the pompous griffin lord and the fire cats and we also loved the plot twist which centred around Bronte's own cat. There's a real sense of tension and imminent threat running right from the start and this escalates into a villain-busting climax which will leave readers as breathless as if they were the knights on a mission. 

There's so much to love about this new story and we can't wait to explore more of the world. We're particularly keen to meet the thunder trolls and find out what kind of peril Bronte will be facing next. You can bet it's not going to be anything like we expect... 

Highly recommended for 6-8 year olds and fans of Hotel of the Gods and The Naughtiest Unicorn.

Call the Puffins: Tiny's Brave Rescue by Cath Howe, illustrated by Ella Okstad

Published by: Welbeck Children's Group, Hachette, 12th October 2023


This second book in the series is as charming as the first and places Tiny, not Muffin, as the main character in this adventure. Perfect for 5-7s, this is a gentle story with gorgeous characters and strong eco themes. 

Tiny, Muffin and the other puffins on the Island of Egg are on to the next stage of their training. But Tiny is still worried he's not up for the job, especially as his sight is limited. When a wild cat turns up on the beach during an important rescue, Tiny is convinced he's messed up. Will he pass this level of training and be able to stay one of the team?

This series is just a pure delight and perfect for fans of Adventuremice. The setting is simple and easy to visualise and the characters are amongst the sweetest you'll ever meet. We particularly love the representation of different disabilities amongst the puffins; from limited vision to feet that are different to everyone else's. The plot is pitched perfectly for the age-group but still has surprisingly high stakes - this is nature and nature's emergencies are serious. Saying that, there's still a lot of fun and friendship to be had and the power of teamwork is forefront! We love it!

Suki in the Snow (Princess Katie's Kittens) by Julie Sykes, illustrated by Sam Loman

Published by: Piccadilly Press, 12th October 2023

With winter on the way, the third instalment of Princess Katie's Kittens feels particularly seasonal. If you're a big fan of the white stuff, then Suki in the Snow is a must-read; a gorgeous story with a holiday setting told from both Katie and Suki's perspective...

Katie is off on her annual holiday to the mountains but is sad to leave the kittens. But when Suki sneaks into her backpack, Katie finds her winter break is rather more stressful than usual. Suki sneaks out into the snow and it's not long before she is lost. Can Katie find her before frostbite sets in as well as keeping her family and friends happy?

With strong themes of pet care, this is a gorgeous series for young animal lovers or those who love a princess story. Katie and Becky are caring characters who mix having fun with responsibility. Suki being lost in the snow creates naturally high stakes but also whisks readers away to a magical snowy landscape full of festival fun, ice-skating, igloos and all the best things about winter. This change of setting was refreshing and all the stories offer a very different adventure. Allowing readers to see things from Suki's point of view as well as Katie's is a genius move and adds a whole special USP to the series. We can't wait to see what the next kitten will get up to.

Monday 6 November 2023

A Medley of Middle-Grade Mysteries...

Whether it's a book aimed at adults or children, mystery stories never seem to go out of fashion. Perhaps one of the reasons for this is that, although they tend to follow a specific set of rules, mystery stories can be presented in a plethora of different ways. Fancy a mystery that will make you laugh? Or maybe a mystery set in an historical setting? No? Then maybe a spooky ghost mystery is what you're after? Whatever is on a reader's wishlist, they're bound to find something that fits the bill.

This medley of middle grade mysteries is only a very small selection of what's currently on offer in the children's book market but they are all books we've recently enjoyed. Each story contains the elements we love in a classic mystery story and yet they couldn't be more different from each other in tone and style. This is why we will never get bored of this versatile genre.


Montgomery Bonbon by Alasdair Beckett-King, illustrated by Claire Powell

If you're after a mystery series that has an hilarious main character, complete with an endearing sidekick, then the Montgomery BonBon series is a must-read. A spoof of the famous Agatha Christie series, Poirot (I think it's even funnier for adults who are familiar with David Suchet's depiction of this astute detective), it follows a young girl with a mystery-solving alter-ego...

Bonnie Montgomery is a brilliant detective. But no one has a clue who she is because children can't be detectives...can they? Maybe not! But Montgomery BonBon can. 

Disguised as a gentleman, complete with moutasche and hat, Bonnie looks nothing like a ten-year-old girl. Only her Grampa Banks knows her secret and, with his help, BonBon is on a mission to solve as many cases as possible...cases that might involve priceless artefacts and...onions.

This is a brilliantly written, laugh-out-loud series which combines murder with mayhem...bonkers mayhem. Bonnie's alter-ego, BonBon, will keep you giggling while the plots in both books will keep you guessing. Grampa is the perfect pairing for Bonnie and it is their relationship which gives both books real warmth and heart. We particularly enjoyed the setting of book two and the fact that it was even more bonkers than the first.

It's hard to talk too much about the stories without leaking spoilers. However, everything about the series oozes personality; from the larger than life characters to BonBon and Grampa's unusual set of wheels to the scenarios they find themselves in. We particularly loved the chapters where Bonnie was as stumped as we were and yet we knew the small details would lead her to the correct conclusion. Bonnie - or BonBon - should I say is endearing, charming, smart and one step ahead of the constabulary. You really don't want to miss her - er, him - in action. 

2. Historical

The Body In The Blitz by Robin Stevens

Link to author website

Published by: Puffin, 12th October 2023

Following on from the Murder Most Unladylike series, Robin Stevens has continued her success of writing mysteries by introducing readers to Hazel's younger sister, May. In the second of The Ministry of Unladylike Activity series, May, together with her new friends Eric and Nuala, are plunged into a baffling mystery set in the terrifying but fascinating backdrop of The Blitz...

When the ministry calls May, Eric and Nuala back to London, the three spies-in-training find themselves staying in a street full of eclectic people thrown together by the war. But there's more than the nightly air-raids to contend with for, when they find a body in the wreckage of a bombed house, they find themselves in the middle of a strange and complex mystery. Will they ever begin to fit the pieces together or will their suspicions collapse like the houses around them?

Told in first person, in diary format, this second release switches the narrative responsibility to Nuala, rather than the previous dual narrative of May and Nuala. This allows readers to see things through the eyes of a wonderfully gentle and earnest character whilst also giving us all the best - and humorous - bits of strong-willed May. Eric is the calm, practical and tender link between the three, making them a great trio to get on board with. 

Although the novel is on the longer side in terms of length, it is so tightly and brilliantly plotted that it bounces along at a terrific pace, keeping us guessing until the very end. The atmosphere and tension of the setting made this mystery particularly electric and, thanks to Robin Stevens sensory and detailed description, I almost felt like I was in the midst of war-time London myself.

The cast of characters is large and yet compelling. Each one - both on and off the page - is distinguishable and the street where the mystery is set is practically a character in itself. This is a classic mystery centred in a city full of bombs and rubble and offers a huge amount of historical accuracy as well as the fictional element. This might just be the most atmospheric mystery I've ever read. 


The Witchstone Ghosts by Emily Randall

Link to publisher

Published by: Chicken House


Halloween might have been and gone but this story has stayed with me. Creepy and unsettling, it combines all the thrills and chills of a ghost story with a corker of a mystery. But can Autumn solve it before the darkness comes for her..?

Autumn sees dead people - they invade every part of her life. But when her Dad dies very suddenly and mysteriously, he is the one ghost who doesn't appear. Then his will sends Autumn and her mum to live on an isolated island called Imber and Autumn finds herself in a race against time to work out how Imber and her father's death are connected.

This mystery kept me guessing. It's highly original plot builds slowly to an incredible ending with plenty of twists and turns along the way. Once again, there's a cast of fabulously memorable characters - Fred and Jack being my personal favourites - and it's unsettling and haunting atmosphere offers a darker take on this popular genre, making it perfect for the higher age-range of middle grade or those who just want to be spooked. 

The setting in this novel, as with Robin Steven's The Body in the Blitz, is also incredibly atmospheric. The fictional island of Imber is located just off the coast of Cornwall and Emily Randall taps into the wild, and often brutal, coastal nature of my home county, giving it a timeless and almost historical feel. Whereas some mysteries are quite linear and progress logically, the supernatural element of this story means that a lot of unusual events and characters collide together like waves in an ocean, creating intrigue, suspense and an outcome that is much harder to predict but which makes perfect sense when all is revealed...

Thursday 12 October 2023

It's here! Our spooky Halloween round-up 2023...

Vlad, The Fabulous Vampire by Flavia Z. Drago

Link to publisher

Published by: Walker Books, September 2023


Following on from Gustavo, The Shy Ghost in 2021 and Leila, The Perfect Witch in 2022, Vlad, The Fabulous Vampire is a heart-warming and endearing story about a vampire who tries to hide his uniqueness. The fear of being different to other vampires is something that terrifies him. But, maybe he’s not as different as he thinks…

Vlad has a passion for fashion and being a vampire means black fashion is his preference. But Vlad has something other vampires don't...ROSY CHEEKS! Can Vlad find a way to hide the embarrassing thing that makes him different or is that what makes him special?

These stunningly-produced picture books have become our annual Halloween treat. Flavia Z. Drago uses startling Halloween colour palettes and yet proceeds to turn well-known ‘spooky’ characters into highly loveable, gorgeously-endearing characters. Not only does the artwork steal your heart but also the genuine earnestness of each character; a shy ghost, a witch who strives to be perfect and an embarrassed vampire. These are not bold, in-your-face heroes but ones that are quieter, gentler and more reserved in tone, making them highly relatable and humbly appealing.

This was probably our favourite story of the three. Partly because we loved the combination of black and pink, but also because it has such a great twist that we actually didn’t see coming. Simple but cleverly plotted, it is the perfect story for whole families to enjoy together. Little ones can enjoy spotting the familiar faces from Gustavo’s world and there’s something new to spot in the illustrations with every repeated read. If you’re after something unique and memorable which will give you a distinct feeling when you read it, this is definitely it. 

Grim Falls Academy by Louise Forshaw

Link to publisher

Published by: Maverick Publishing, September 2023


This trilogy of chapter books from Louise Forshaw is not only supernatural, it’s SUPER spooky as well. Set in a boarding school for supernatural kids, it has a loveable trio of main characters – a werewolf, a vampire and a…er…human? – with a supporting cast that includes a mummified bully and a living skeleton for a headteacher…

Don't Eat the Soup - something very weird is happening at Grim Falls Academy. Teachers are losing their memory and growing tentacles! Can Seb and his friends get to the bottom of this tangled mystery?

Don't Feed the Glob - When their Mad Science teacher, who is acting weird, gives Seb and his friends some tiny globs of slime to look after, it's not long before they grow completely out of control. Seems that Seb, Victor and Tabby have a STICKY situation on their hands...

Don't Open the Box - when Seb finds a hidden box in the school, he just has to open it. But suddenly a troll is wrecking havoc and the school has turned into a giant maze. Just what has Seb unleashed and can he, Victor and Tabby sort it before the school is destroyed?

This is Louise Forshaw’s debut as an author-illustrator (previously an illustrator only) and she’s done a sensational job with both the words and the highly engaging pictures, which drew all of my kids in with one glance. For me, the stories felt like Goosebumps for a younger audience and they are perfect for readers who don’t mind feeling just a little bit scared. Each book is packed full of twists and turns, a fast-moving, high-stakes plot and wacky scenarios that are deliciously devilish and highly thrilling; characters that sprout tentacles, a sinister knotweed maze and greedy growing globs. What’s not to love?

As well as having strong themes of friendship and teamwork, each story includes a gentle exploration of accepting who you are, controlling emotions and taking responsibility for your actions. We loved the familiar feel of a spooky setting combined with endearing characters and imaginative and original plots. Even better, it appears that the last page ends on the possible promise of more to come. We really hope so because three books just wasn’t enough. We want to see more of the characters, spend more time in the school and see the trio of heroes battle more villainous shenanigans.

When Frankie Made A Human by Rachel Delahaye, illustrated by Maite Schmitt

Link to publisher
Published by: Sweet Cherry Publishing, September 2023


Perfect for the spooky season, this twisted tale of Frankenstein sews together a very clever concept with an endearing main character, fun world-building and an exploration of human behaviour. 

Frankie is lonely. He's not like the other monsters in Monsterweld and he wants a friend. But when he decides to grow a human, will things work out the way he hoped?

This is a really sweet story and just the book for young readers, aged approximately 6-8 years, who love monsters but don't want to be scared. Frankie is an instantly loveable and relatable character who feels left out because he lives high up on a mountain and is a different sort of monster to everyone else. We also loved Igor and Frankie's scientist mum who insists on Frankie studying science. 

By creating a world where monsters and humans are now separated, Rachel Delahaye is able to explore some great themes. The set-up of Monsterweld is really interesting, where everyone is respectful of their environment and has just enough food to sustain them. Humans live differently, however, and this is cleverly shown through Fido's character. It was nice to see he wasn't all bad though and that change is always a hopeful possibility. There's definitely a lot packed into the short word count and we'd love to see more stories from this world. 

Kevin the Vampire by Matt Brown, illustrated by Flavia Sorrentino

Link to publisher

Published by: Nosy Crow, 14th September 2023


We are big fans of Flavia Sorrentino's cover art and this brightly-coloured number drew us in like a vampire is drawn to blood. Except for Kevin, that is. Kevin is not your average bloodsucking vampire. His family run a carnival and it's Kevin's dream to be a dragon rider like Gogmagog. But an unexpected adventure is about to befall him...

Kevin and his family are on the way to Monstros City. But when their Batnav goes wrong, they end up in a human town called Lower Drudging. In desperate need of gold to continue their journey, they decide to put on a show for the locals. But humans from Lower Drudging don't want anything to do with monsters and, besides, they might be hiding a monster secret of their own...

Full of great world-building, fun and charm, this, for me, has a Roald Dahl vibe to it. With horrible aunts, a miserable mayor and a cast of unusual and memorable characters, it is a high-stakes, fast-paced adventure that readers of all ages can enjoy. Other comparisons include Vlad the World's Worst Vampire and The Addams Family, making it a book that is perfect for the spooky season but which can also be enjoyed all year round. 

Matt Brown has created some lovely twists that set this story apart from other vampire stories. Kevin is able to enjoy daylight, for example, and although his family have little experience of humans, they are excited to meet them (although, unfortunately, the humans don't feel the same way.) Kevin and Susie are great characters and I liked the way the narrative switched between their two stories. This enabled the pace to stay strong and made the climax of the story more satisfying, as we were invested in both characters. There's some great little fact-files to break up the chapters and lots of scope for future adventures. 

So, if you're looking for a fun, light-hearted and spooktacular new series to get hooked on, this is definitely worth a read. 

Bella Bright and the Ghost Game by Carolyn Ward, illustrated by Beatriz Castro

Link to Waterstones

Published by: Welbeck Publishing


If you're looking for a traditional type of ghost story set in a haunted house with cobwebs, flickering lights and slamming doors, then this is the book for you. Bella Bright and the Ghost Game will give you all the feels; hair-raising thrills and chills mixed with a warm injection of friendship and a poignancy that will make your heart ache...

Bella Bright moves from place to place, fixing up old buildings with her mum. So when they first arrive at Darkling Manor in Castleton, Bella is simply faced with another new school, more mean girls and the reality of not fitting in. But Darkling Manor clearly has secrets and, when the 'deadly duo' Skylar and Regan, invite themselves round for a Halloween sleepover, things quickly take a sinister turn. Soon, Bella and her visitors are drawn into a game of Hide and Seek with a ghost called Alice. But can they solve the mystery behind the game in time and will Bella have a shot at finding real friends at last...or lose them all?

This is a cracking story that doesn't hold back on the fear factor. Carolyn Ward pushes the boundaries of scary for middle-grade readers whilst balancing it beautifully with the trials and tribulations of the life of a 12-year-old. The characters are real and relatable (I loved Lex but watch out for Skylar!) and Alice's story is simple but heart-breaking. 

The novel has a strong, pacy structure with clever plotting and a definite escalation of spookiness. I really liked Bella's story arc and her over-riding longing for friends. With secret passages and tons of creepy crawlies, Carolyn Ward's imagination was both fantastic and atmospheric. This is a novel you need to read under a blanket by firelight. Alternatively, you may want to keep the lights firmly on!

The Vanquishers by Kalynn Bayron

Link to publisher


Published by: Bloomsbury, 28th September 2023

Cinderella Is Dead is one of my favourite YA reads and Kalynn Baron's middle-grade debut is Waterstones Book of the Month for October. I can see why! This is a vampire series for younger readers, offering all the spookiness, adrenaline and tension that you'd expect but with friendship and family at its heart...

Malika - or Boog as she is known - and her friends, Jules and Cedrick, live in a close community in San Antonio, Texas where their parents and elders are struggling to shake the fear of a past where vampires existed. But everyone knows that every vampire was wiped out by the Vanquishers during The Reaping so Boog can't understand why they are still acting so strangely. 

But when their new friend Aaron goes missing, it triggers an unsettling chain of events. Could it be that history is about to begin all over again..?

This story has a fairly gentle start, building to a gripping, cliffhanger ending. It hooks readers in by inviting them into the lives of a tight circle of friends who don't quite fit in and who are dealing with all the usual, everyday things most pre-teens are. But the ordinary is about to become extraordinary as we begin to learn about the community's past and the rules around how vampires existed. Kalynn Baron builds the tension slowly but brilliantly - drip-feeding information and making the readers piece the clues together for themselves. I definitely had goosebumps before the action even began!

This is definitely the beginning of an epic series. Ultimately, the characters are really likeable and I was fully invested in them by the end of the novel. I loved how there were references to well-known, much-loved vampire stories but that Baron has twisted the established vampire rules into new ones, whilst keeping all the things we love/fear about them. I also loved the exploration of the unbreakable bond of true friendship.

Dreadwood: Deadly Deep by Jennifer Killick

Link to publisher

Published by: Farshore, 31st August 2023


We've reviewed Jennifer Killick's fabulously spooky novels many times on the blog and choosing to read one around Halloween will guarantee to give you the shivers. The fourth book in the Dread Wood series is definitely one of our favourites (although we love them all!) due to the very different setting and chilling, thrilling monster...

Angelo and his friends are on the school trip of a lifetime - a research trip aboard a boat in the Mediterranean. But their unease soon turns into horror when they find themselves face-to-face with a creepy man on a sinister mission and a deadly sea monster with the power to kill them all. How will the four get out of this one?

This is Titanic mixed with Halloween - a deliciously chilling read with a cracking pace and lifebuoys of humour to stop you from sinking into absolute terror. For me, the absolute star of the show was Karen - a brilliant and almost loveable villain who will stick in my memory for a long time to come. But, as always, the banter of the group and the brilliant Mr. C were also completely on point. Jennifer Killick is a genius when it comes to writing teens and Gus especially becomes more endearing with every book. 

I really enjoyed the slight change in format with Book 4 and the way the future of the series has been secured with a cliffhanger. We're really excited that Dread Wood has been extended to at least two more books because, as long as they keep being written, we'll definitely keep buying them for the guaranteed jitters and jokes. 

Read, Scream, Repeat created by Jennifer Killick

Link to publisher

Published by Farshore, August 2023

This collection of THIRTEEN spooky short stories is a Halloween TREAT! You only have to look at the list of incredible authors who have contributed a tale to get excited. From Kirsty Applebaum to Phil Hickes to Jasbinder Bilan and Jennifer Killick herself - these are just a few of the exceptional writers who have penned an original story for the collection. 

If you don't fancy reading a full-length spooky novel, this is the perfect book to dip in to. The stories can be read in any order or can be savoured over several Halloweens if you'd rather just enjoy one or two. There's a great selection to choose from. Titles include Wolf Moon, The Light Bulb, Underlay Underlings and The Green Ghost, but it feels a shame to only highlight one or two in the collection when ALL the stories are incredible and every reader will bring their own personal preferences. This is a trick or treat lucky-dip that you can explore yourself. Which tale will be your favourite and which will give you frightmares?

In our house there are always too many books to read in too short a time. Sadly, we didn't manage to fit in every spooky read we were hoping to. However, these books are on our pile to enjoy over our Halloweeny half term: 

Dead Good Detectives: Ghost Rescue by Jenny McLachlan - we really enjoyed the first in this series and Jenny McLachlan is one of our favourites. 

The Witchstone Ghosts by Emily Randall - Emily Randall won the Times Chicken House Prize 2021 with this story (then called The Flood Child) and we've heard all good things.

Monday 25 September 2023

BLOG TOUR: SAVING THE SUN by Emma Pearl and Sara Ugolotti

Hooray! It's our stop on the blog tour for Saving the Sun, written by Emma Pearl, illustrated by Sara Ugolotti and published by Page Street Kids. We were lucky enough to be part of the blog tour for Mending the Moon, Emma's debut picture book also illustrated by Sara Ugolotti, last November and so it's lovely to part of the celebrations again...

When the sun sinks into the sea and loses its fire, it's up to Luna and Poppa to save it, just like they saved the moon. But how can they possibly fish the sun out of the water and get it back into the sky? And how will they set it ablaze again? It looks like Luna and Poppa may need some help along the way...

Just like Mending the Moon, this is a beautiful story with stunning illustrations which encourages problem-solving, teamwork and which highlights the importance of perseverance. With Poppa's gentle reassurance and Luna's love of the natural world, children will be able to enjoy a story with a BIG problem whilst feeling soothed by the lyrical language and safe in the pages of such a joyful setting.  

With whales and dolphins, fireflies and bursts of colourful birds, this text is a feast for the eyes. But what we particularly loved was that, although being a fictional story, it alludes to the humongous questions of science, activating the curiosity of younger readers. Why does the sun burn so hot? How does it stay in the sky? Where does it go at night? And what if it ever burns out? After reading such a playful and fun take on these ideas, hopefully little learners will be interested in finding out more about these big questions whilst also considering their own ideas on the matter.

This is a picture book with a big imagination, wonderful words and colourful characters and we highly recommend it. Great for fans of The Boy Who Switched Off The Sun by Paul Brown and Mark O'Hanlon and The Boy Who Unplugged the Sea by Paul Brown and Chris Capstick, this also doubles up as a calming bedtime story which will hopefully lull them to sleep as though they're bobbing on the waves themselves. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous!

Saving the Sun is available to pre-order now and is released in the UK on 24th October 2023. 

Monday 18 September 2023


Link to publisher

Published by: Bloomsbury, 28th September 2023


With the most incredible autumnal front cover - I would love to know who the illustrator is - this new novel from Katya Balen is utterly breathtaking. For any readers who are already familiar with Balen's writing, it is delicate, fierce,  raw and exquisitely beautiful. Her use of language is unlike any other author I have read and this is probably my favourite novel she's written yet...

Two red-headed sisters, Fen and Rey don't have a mother. They were left at foxlight at the edge of the Wildlands, tucked amidst the fiery fur of a fox.

But now the Wildlands are calling to the girls and, desperate to find the out the truth of their story, they trek into the unknown to find it. But the Wildlands are harsh and brutal as well as beautiful. Will the sisters manage to survive, let alone find what they're looking for..?

Yet again, Katya Balen weaves a spellbinding tale of familial love, found family and the wild but healing power of nature. As in October, October, winner of the Yoto Carnegie Medal 2022, and The Light In Everything (both novels I absolutely loved but somehow never reviewed on this blog), her heroines are brilliantly drawn - gentle, furious and full of raw emotion - with their very natures intertwining and connecting with the nature around them. Balen's novels encompass the very essence of what it is to be a child in a complicated world, exploring how they navigate seeing the world differently, how they navigate blended families and families that found them rather than gave birth to them. Using her background of working in special schools and in social care, Balen creates characters who make us feel, who ignite our understanding and empathy and who help us to distill the most important truths in our lives. 

This is a quieter, yet extremely powerful read, different to your average middle-grade novel. The narrative is windier and less driven by action than many stories for 8-12 year olds but, for me, it still felt pacy. It's completely character-led, enhanced by a potent and intoxicating setting and words that fizz and sing and bite and scratch. The visual storytelling is a delight and I particularly loved the warmth of the character Lissa and the home she'd created. If any reader is in two minds whether to give this novel a try then it's definitely worth checking out Balen's novella, Nightjar, for Barrington Stoke, another incredible piece of writing with very similar themes. 

A big thanks to NetGalley and Bloomsbury for allowing me a review copy. Foxlight is available to pre-order and is released on 28th September. I can't recommend it highly enough. 

Monday 4 September 2023

UPCOMING RELEASE: Impossible Creatures by Katherine Rundell


Published by: Bloomsbury, 14th September 2023

If you love fantastical creatures, then this is the fantasy series for you. Inspired by an unfinished poem written by John Donne, Katherine Rundell combines unicorns with griffins with dragons and a plethora of other incredible creatures and whisks us away to a hidden realm: the Archipelago...

When Christopher goes to Scotland to stay with his grandfather, he is startled to see a thunder of mythical creatures tearing down the hill towards the house, leaving his grandfather no choice but to reveal the truth: he is a guardian of a portal between the human world and the Archipelago, a place where creatures of myth are protected. 

But the magical protection is weakening and when he encounters a strange, flying girl called Mal who is in desperate need of help, Christopher accompanies her back to the Archipelago where a dangerous quest awaits them...

This is a fast-paced adventure that moves at the speed of a dragon on a mission. The world-building is dazzling, the characters instantly loveable - Mal and Nighthand being firm favourites - and Gelifen, well, will steal your heart. There's sphinxes and manticores and karkadanns to reckon with as well as well as dark human power. 

As with other recent fantasies, one of the most prominent themes of the novel is the human destruction of the planet and the creatures within it. There's also an interesting exploration of the theme of power including, of course, the power of friendship. This first novel covers more ground than I initially thought it would, leaving it open for the next instalment to go in an unknown and exciting direction. There's certainly lots more places to explore and lots more creatures to meet. 

This is a different genre to Katherine Rundell's other fantastic novels: Rooftoppers, Girl Savage, The Explorer and The Good Thieves (Wolf Wilder being the one we haven't read) but the magical element is truly magic. I always enjoy Rundell's characters, including the adult ones she weaves into her stories, but this time it's the creatures that will make your heart soar, make your heart break and fill you with the wonder of imagination. 

A big thanks to NetGalley and Bloomsbury for allowing me a review copy. Impossible Creatures is available to pre-order and is released on 14th September 2023. 

It's Christmas! Our seasonal round-up for 2023..

  You Can't Let An Elephant Pull Santa's Sleigh by Patricia Cleveland-Peck and David Tazzyman Link to publisher Published by: Blooms...