Thursday 27 February 2020

UPCOMING RELEASE: The Wild Way Home by Sophie Kirtley

Link to Goodreads

Publishing: 9th July 2020, Bloomsbury


When the going gets tough, Charlie gets going...

Twelve year old Charlie Merriem is filled with excitement at the arrival of the baby brother he has always dreamed of. But when he discovers baby Dara is seriously ill Charlie's fears overwhelm him and he flees to his safe place - Mandel Forest.
But when Charlie finds an ancient deer tooth, he is suddenly whisked back in time to the Stone Age. There the forest holds dangers Charlie could never have dreamed of and a boy who needs his help.
By helping Harby find his family, will Charlie find a way back home to his? And will he find the strength to face his deepest fears?
This story contains all the ingredients for a fantastic adventure: wolves, storms, shadows and oodles of danger. However, the external obstacles are nothing compared to Charlie's inner struggles. Even if he survives the threats lurking amongst the trees, can he ever forgive himself for abandoning his baby brother?
Kirtley tells a bold tale. For the majority of the book, the story focuses on only two characters- Charlie and Harby- and yet the narrative remains engaging through fast-paced twists and electrifying descriptions of the forest itself  (the language used in the storm scene is incredible.) Although certain aspects of the story did come to feel slightly repetitive (there was a lot of running and tripping and falling) these moments were broken up by chapters filled with high tension. The climatic knife scene with the mysterious shadow man and the baby was particularly eye-watering but was in keeping with the dynamic plot.
I really admired the way Sophie Kirtley didn't shy away from the difficult issues of life. Whether in the Stone Age or in modern time, she beautifully showed how every family can endure terrible times which ignite the darkest of fears. Kirtley guides Charlie and the reader gently to the conclusion that these challenges need to be faced with bravery and strength and it is only by helping Harby with his plight that Charlie comes to face his own. It was particularly poignant that Charlie initially couldn't accept the help of his closest friends, but had to find his own way back in (and to) his own time. This highlighted the sense of isolation a person goes through when things are tough.
Fans of Stig of the Dump will find this a delight but I would highly recommend that all middle grade readers give it a go. It is an adventure story with a difference. The setting is memorable in it's beauty yet menacing silence. The tone feels reflective. Compared to other current middle grade adventures on the market, this feels slower and tamer in pace but makes for a deeper impact on the soul.
This is Sophie Kirtley's debut novel and I look forward to seeing what comes next.

Wednesday 26 February 2020

The Pirates are Coming! by John Condon and Matt Hunt

Link to Goodreads

Published: 2020, Nosy Crow


A fantastic new twist on 'The Boy who Cried Wolf'...

I've never known pirate stories NOT to be popular - either at home or in the classroom. But even if there's some disagreement on that then I'm prepared to bet that this new release will strike GOLD with little ones.
Open the pages and leap into a TREASURE TROVE of wonder. The fantastic artwork by Matt Hunt sucked me instantly into the page, making me feel like I was actually there, Tom's endearing excitement and anticipation was highly contagious and the plot brilliantly simple and catchy in it's repetitiveness.
Can you see the pirates coming? Tom is convinced he can! His job is super important. Alerting the villagers by ringing the bell will mean they can hide in plenty of time. There's only one problem. Tom may need to invest in a pirate telescope or  go to Specsavers...for maybe it's not the pirates after all...or is it?
The story, like the original Aesop's fable, carries a pretty serious message but the twist at the end is new and refreshing and lightens the story in a fun and humorous way. The language is perfect for both the younger end of the picture book market and for children with SEN. (My daughter is 9, has autism and responds amazingly to texts that she can memorise and repeat.)
So sharpen your cutlasses and find your hiding places quick. For if Tom rings that bell...

Thursday 20 February 2020

Upcoming release: The House of Hidden Wonders by Sharon Gosling

Stripes Publishing: The House of Hidden Wonders

Release date: 2 April 2020, Stripes Publishing


The standard of middle grade publications available on the UK market is currently sensational and this up and coming novel by Sharon Gosling, author of The Diamond Thief had me hooked within the first few pages.
Set in the murky depths of 19th century Edinburgh, Gosling weaves a heart-wrenching story of three street sisters struggling to survive in the harshest of conditions. Soon their turmoil leads them into a world of mysterious criminal activity, ghosts and subterfuge with doses of deadly danger.
Gosling wows with strength of character and plot. Zinnie, the eldest of the three sisters, is sharp and loveable. Her desire to accept and protect those who have become her kin is endearing and the lengths she is prepared to go to save them is beyond brave. Aided by a posse of well-written and likeable adult characters- Arthur Conan Doyle, Lady Sarah Montague and Doctor Sophia Jex-Blake- who assist without patronising, Zinnie may have the chance she needs to solve the mystery of the house of hidden wonders.
I loved that the story was set in Edinburgh rather than London. The city had incredible character as a setting and had been clearly well-researched. Fact intermingled with fiction through the history of Edinburgh and through characters who had a firm footing in reality (Arthur Conan Doyle and Dr. Jex-Blake). This made for an intriguing and powerful read. There was oodles of girl power; from Zinnie and her sisters to the ground-breaking female doctor to the explorer to adorable Aelfine and her monkey and this made for a wonderful, heart-swelling end to the novel. Occasionally, the exchanges of dialogue felt a little long and there could have been an extra twist or two concerning the villain. However, with the focus firmly on Zinnie's difficult journey through the grim underworld, it was impossible not to become fully immersed in her world and her cause. I loved her straight-talking, her child-like acceptance of difference and her compassion for others so much that she will remain a memorable character for a long time to come - as will the originality and intensity of the story.
A thrilling, gripping and moving read.

Rhinocorn Rules by Matt Carr

Rhinocorn Rules on Goodreads

Published: 2020, Egmont


If you are looking for a bit of psychedelic colour and cheer during this stormy month of February then look no further than Matt Carr's Rhinocorn Rules. 
Ron the Rhino looks like all the other rhinos but feels different. This makes it very hard for him to follow the rules of his species - so much so that he breaks them and becomes exactly who he wants to be!
But, uh-oh! Ron's decision doesn't go down well with the other rhinos on the savannah. Can he convince them that these rules are holding them back from happiness?
Following the success of Matt Carr's Spyder (if you haven't read it, please do!), Rhinocorn Rules is beautifully but simply written. It's succinct style gets straight to the point, leaving us to be dazzled by delightful Ron and the wonderful pictures. The message is as neon as the colours on the cover. Be whoever you want to be! However, it also tackles the challenges of social conventions and public opinion whilst allowing children to explore which rules should be kept and which are made to be broken.
Everything about this book is charming; the characters, the setting and the style. But overall it carries a message that everyone, big or small, needs to hear and celebrate.

Sunday 16 February 2020

Agent Starling: Operation Baked Beans by Jenny Moore

Amazon: Agent Starling

Published by: Maverick Arts Publishing, 2019


Nip to the portaloo, wolf down some baked beans and stock up on the toffee popcorn before settling down with this humorous, all-action, nail-biting history lesson cross secret agent book.
Fancy a stomp around Roman Britain with Oliver mean Agent Starling and Agent Owl? They are on a mission to capture Dr. Midnight - an evil genius who has travelled back in his portaloo time machine to conquer the past with baked beans, butterscotch popcorn and nappy pins.
In order to stop Dr. Midnight from changing the entire course of history, Agent Starling must follow Agent Owl's orders. But when Agent Owl is taken prisoner, Oliver is left to wander the Roman Empire alone in a very messy toga and his mum's frilly knickers. Only a strong stomach and the power of friendship will get him out of this timewarp. But will it get him out of an amphitheatre full of hungry lions?
This book was a delight to read - living, breathing history at it's best, wound up in a genius and  original loo-papered plot and all the joys of a secret agent expedition. Jenny Moore writes with bags of detail and chortling humour, the characters were unique and memorable and the plot was busy but hugely entertaining. The only big disappointment for me was the lack of pictures. Some black and white sketches would have been very welcome at certain points in the plot (pants, portaloos, piranha toothed dogs - that kind of thing!)
This story is an shining example of how history should be brought to life. Okay, so not every has access to their own photo booth or portaloo time machine, but Jenny draws the reader in by presenting facts in an engaging and vivid way. I feel like I learnt as much about Roman Britain as I did about agenting and time travel.
 At 219 pages, this felt like a hefty read for junior fiction but a lighter read for those entering middle grade territory. Maverick have always been a favourite publisher of mine for picture books but this is the first older fiction novel I have read from them and I was definitely left wanting more. With plenty of other centuries to explore, I very much hope to see Jenny Moore's brilliant Agent Starling again soon.

Wednesday 12 February 2020

The Kid who came from Space by Ross Welford

Link to book via Goodreads

Published:2020 HarperCollins


When Ethan's twin sister Tammy mysteriously disappears on Christmas Eve his whole village is plunged into turmoil. But Ethan can feel his sister is still alive and he may just be right...except she's no longer on the planet.
When Ethan and his eccentric friend Iggy encounter a hairy alien creature by the lake they can hardly believe their eyes. But Hellyann - an extra-terrestrial capable of emotions - is on a mission. A mission to help bring his sister home.
This was a trickier read for me. Mainly because where mysteries are my natural go-to genre, sci-fi is not. However, this book with it's high concept plot did grab my attention and I have nothing but praise for Ross Welford's writing.
Welford manages to convey the grim desperation felt by Tammy's family and, indeed, the whole community when she disappears whilst also injecting some dry humour through Iggy and his chicken. He cleverly weaves a narrative which jumps around in time without being confusing and which also changes narrative from Ethan to the delightful and caring Hellyann. The strong, inclusive voice speaks to the reader, drawing them fully into the story. Although perhaps a little slow in parts, it is worth a read just to see how Hellyann's race view humans (very interesting) and Welford's brilliant world-building.
The message is strong. From strong familial bonds to views on captivity, empathy and emotions - this is a tale that packs a thought-provoking punch. Fans of sci-fi should shoot this to the top of their 'to-read' list and those less keen on the genre should also be encouraged to give this a go.

Thursday 6 February 2020

I am NOT an Elephant by Karl Newson and Ross Collins

I am NOT an elephant -PanMacmillan

Published: 2020, PanMacmillan


A few weeks ago I reviewed 'I am a Tiger,' with a solid five thumbs up from my four year old son.

Today, great excitement reigned again as our pre-order of 'I am NOT an elephant' was delivered on it's release day!
Big smiles all round at the chance to see confused but adorable mouse on top form again with her entertaining announcements and, even more so, the amusing interaction with the animals around her.
Karl Newson begins the story by flipping to the inverse of  'I am a Tiger'. Whereas before mouse was convinced she WAS, this time she is convinced she is NOT (in the face of someone who thinks she is!) But if she is NOT an elephant for obvious reasons, then what is she? And what is everyone else?
The back cover review states that Newson 'captures imaginative play perfectly'. This is a wonderful way of describing the conversation between the characters; questioning, amusing and sometimes totally bonkers. It reminded me of those giggly, yet often life-defining conversations that you have wrapped up in a blanket, staring at the stars with a best friend. Amid all the hilarity, there is a beautifully summed up message, uttered nonchalantly by mouse.
Did my son pick up on all this? Well, no perhaps not! But what he did belly laugh at (again) was Ross Collin's very funny artwork, the accompanying sound effects, mouse's confusion and, of course, the page where she announces what everyone is (or looks like!).
What mouse is to us is some genius light relief at the end of the day when we all need a giggle and a cuddle, accompanied by a LOT of wondering about who we are and what we're doing in life. Tonight, my son was a fox. Tomorrow, he'll probably be a chef...when you're small, the world really is your oyster! Or is that your mouse?

Monday 3 February 2020

The Highland Falcon Thief by M.G Leonard and Sam Sedgman

Link: Highland Falcon Thief

Published by: 2020 Macmillan


Illustrated by Elisa Paganelli

All aboard! Jump on quickly if you fancy a ride (and a read) full of thrilling adventure and mystery.
My love of children's literature means I am open to reading anything and everything. However, if you asked me what my preferred genre or ideal book is...this is it!
A classic sleuth novel set in a timeless setting.
My memories of watching Poirot with both sets of grandparents dates back to early childhood, when I was probably about six- curious but very easily scared! The tradition continued until I was well into my twenties and I still have a great love of detective mysteries today.
So, throw in a child-friendly but very clever plot, a gaggle of quirky characters and a pair of easy to like protagonists and you have a winner!
Harrison Beck is less than thrilled at the thought of taking a steam journey with his train fanatic uncle. But jumping aboard the Highland Falcon takes him on an adventure he never imagined. After meeting stowaway and steam train enthusiast, Lenny, he begins to see his surrounding with new eyes. And when they discover an infamous jewel thief is aboard, Harrison, Lenny and his beloved sketchbook have less than four days to solve the case!
This novel combines a passion for two things; trains and mysteries. Although, I know nothing about trains, the authors draw you into the rich and detailed world of the railways through absorbing and irresistible descriptions. This provides the perfect setting for an all out chuffing adventure which instantly captures the imagination.
The book contains much of the 'Poirot' charm. Elegant characters, an easy-going pace and friendly tone. I particularly liked the dynamics between Hal and his Uncle Nat. It was wonderfully refreshing to have an accompanying adult in the story who was encouraging, supportive and casual rather than oppressive. As a result Hal unfolded as an easily likeable and sparky boy, who had worries without being too troubled. This light touch made the story trundle along happily - picking up pace towards the end and rattling towards a breath-taking, high-stake finish.
I can see the 'Adventures on Trains' series quickly achieving the same success as M.G Leonard's 'Beetle Boy' trilogy- my best read of 2018. With a sneak preview of Book 2 in the Waterstones Exclusive Edition, I cannot wait for 'Kidnap of the California Comet.'
(The Waterstones Exclusive Edition also includes extra sketches from the wonderful Elisa Paganelli and adds an extra dimension to what is already a fantastic read!)

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