Thursday 30 June 2022

New Release: The Midnighters by Hana Tooke

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Published by Penguin: 23rd June 2022


Science meets superstition in this beautiful second novel by Hana Tooke. Author of one of my favourite reads in 2020, The Unadoptables, this is another example of Tooke's exquisite storytelling, set in a similar time period but in a different city and with a completely different plot to her first novel.

Growing up as the youngest member in a large family of scientists, Ema soon realises she is different. Superstitions, omens and a strange fear of shadows seem to follow her wherever she goes and, according to her parents, superstition and science do not mix. 

Sent to stay with her uncle in Prague, Ema forms a friendship with an elusive, mysterious girl called Silvie. But their midnight adventures come to an abrupt halt when Silvie goes missing. Now Ema must find the courage to enter the mysterious Midnight Guild and find out what has happened to her. 

This is an upper middle grade novel for competent readers and perfect for those who love science, superstition, history or a really good mystery. Ema is an endearing main character, trying to find herself amongst family members who are very sure of themselves, and I found her fear and uncertainty very relatable. In contrast, Silvie is far more worldly, but with knowledge and secrets that also evoke fear. As a supporting cast, Ema's uncle provides some adult reassurance and Ferkel, an injection of humour.

The world-building is richly imagined. The city of Prague, which we mostly see at night, has a dark, gothic feel and the whole tone of the novel is as mysterious and secretive as a river shrouded in mist. There are lots of truths for Ema to uncover and, from the get-go, it is clear that the Midnight Guild is fully imagined by the author, with an in-depth backstory and wondrous detail. I really enjoyed the clash of science and superstition and how this plays out throughout, with Ema at the centre. As with The Unadoptables, Tooke writes very much from the perspective of a child who is navigating the dangerous world of adults and, for me, this is what makes her novels stand out. 

A big thanks to NetGalley and Penguin for allowing me a review copy. The Midnighters is available to buy now. 

Monday 20 June 2022

New Release: The Knight with the Blazing Bottom by Beach

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Published by Simon and Schuster, 9th June 2022


The sequel to The Dragon With The Blazing Bottom is out! A 'fiery fairy tale' told in hilarious rhyme, this is a story that is as roarsome, bold and explosive as the main characters...

Dragon is down! His fire is still coming out the wrong end and he doesn't know what to do about it. But Sir. Wayne does. If they start doing everything in reverse, Dragon's fire is sure to change direction. But when Dragon and Sir. Wayne start swapping everything around, they get a rather unexpected results. 

This is toilet humour at its funniest - a quest to get Dragon's fire to come out of his mouth rather than his bottom. In the same ilk as The Dinosaur That Pooped series, it perhaps won't be for everyone - my mum refuses to read toilet humour books to my children - but have no doubt, the kids will LOVE it! Dragon and Sir. Wayne are a great double act and I can see this series becoming crazier and more madcap as it continues, which hopefully it will. 

What I particularly liked about this story was the plot. "How is doing everything in reverse going to have any effect on solving Dragon's problem?" I thought as I read it. But, of course, this picture book hasn't been written for me or any other adult - it's been written for children and this is an example of awesome child logic that delivers an hysterical punch line at the end. 

Reading the text out loud is a delight and far funnier than reading it in your head. The rhyme is as riotous as the story is ridiculous and you can't help but snort with laughter at the characters' escapades. So why not give in to five minutes of silliness, gather together as a family, forget about your day and just 'laugh your socks off'...just make sure your laughter comes out the right end!

The Knight With The Blazing Bottom is out now. A big thanks to NetGalley and Simon and Schuster for allowing me a review copy. 

Sunday 19 June 2022

The Worry Tiger by Alexandra Page and Stef Murphy


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Published by: Two Hoots, Pan Macmillan, 21st July 2022


Following the release of The Fire Fox last year, Alexandra Page and Stef Murphy have teamed up again to bring us another beautiful picture book called The Worry Tiger. 

Rory is feeling anxious. It's show-and-tell tomorrow at school and he has nothing to share with the class. But then he meets his very own worry tiger who takes him on a magical journey and encourages him to find his inner calm. 

As with The Fire Fox, which deals very gently with grief, The Worry Tiger is extremely subtle in tone. With the focus firmly on the magical adventure, readers are encouraged to breathe and stretch and to enter a state of mindfulness without even realising it. 

For me, there is a slight hint of the classic picture book, The Tiger That Came to Tea, in this story, but instead of the tiger invading the home of the child, the tiger takes the child out into the world. However, thanks to the stunning illustrations by Stef Murphy – who this time takes us on an adventure into a vibrant jungle rather than the arctic – I still felt that same sense of awe at the appearance of such a magnificent creature who is both wild and yet completely soothing at the same time. Surely, if a creature famous for its ferocity can enjoy being mindful, then readers can too!

To reinforce the gentle message of the story, the endpapers at the back of the book provide some exercises for mindfulness, reiterating the breathing and the stretching that Rory was taught in the jungle. Yet Alexandra Page's lyrical words and lulling rhyme are relaxing enough in themselves. Perfect for bedtime or for calming worried or hyped-up little ones, this is a truly magical combination of words and pictures. 

A big thanks to Netgalley and Pan Macmillan for allowing me a review copy. The Worry Tiger is released on 21st July 2022 and is available to pre-order. 

Wednesday 8 June 2022

New Release: Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun by Tola Okogwu

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Published by: Simon and Schuster, 9th June 2022


Hooray! Courtesy of Simon and Schuster and NetGalley, I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek of this much anticipated middle grade novel that I've heard so much about. And, trust me, readers are in for a treat. Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun is a fantastically fresh superhero novel set in both London and Nigeria and Onyeka's superpower, or ike as it is called in Nigeria, just happens to be linked to her hair...

British-Nigerian girl, Onyeka, has spent her whole life battling with her hair. But when she finds out it has psychokinetic powers she is promptly whisked away to The Academy of the Sun in Nigeria - a training programme for Solari (children with superpowers). But it's not long before Onyeka and her new friends are caught up in a battle that threatens the entire future of the Solari.

Firstly, don't be fooled! What begins as a fairly normal story - two friends heading to a swimming pool in London - swiftly tranforms into fast-paced, enthralling adventure as Onyeka develops overnight superpowers and embarks on a journey of acceptance and self-love. Finding herself in Nigeria surrounded by other Solari, Onyeka is not only faced with having to make new friends - as well as making friends with her hair- but she is forced to face serious questions about her identity and her family. 

The world-building in the novel is excellent and has such a level of depth and detail that you know a whole world, beyond just one book, is about to open in front of you. The plot is visual, action-packed and dynamic and it's clear to see why it has been snapped up as a feature film. I loved Onyeka's ongoing battle with her hair and her burgeoning friendship with Adanna, compared to her solid relationship with Cheyenne, gives the story heart and warmth. There's humour as Onyeka's hair comes into its own and tons of secrets to unravel.

Reminding me of the Nevermoor series and also comparable to the new Skandar and the Unicorn Thief, this is clearly going to be a epic fantasy series. I loved the Nigerian setting and the authenticity that Tola Okogwu brings to the narrative. There's also some excellent haircare tips woven into the story, braided seamlessly with virtual quests and training battles. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing it on screen as much as I'm hoping for book two.

A big thanks to NetGalley and Simon and Schuster for allowing me a review copy. Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun publishes tomorrow, June 9th 2022. 

New Release: A Flash of Fireflies by Aisha Bushby

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Published by: Farshore, June 9th 2022

Following on from A Pocketful of Stars, Moonchild: Voyage of the Lost and Found and Moonchild: City of the Sun, comes Aisha Bushby's fourth middle-grade novel, A Flash of Fireflies. Perfect for lovers of fairy tales, this is a cleverly crafted novel which powerfully explores anxiety and OCD. 

When Hazel is sent to England ahead of her parents, she discovers her Great Aunt's house is the stuff of fairy tales - very similar to the Gingerbread House with a white rabbit hopping about. But as she struggles to adjust to her new life, she discovers that fairy tales have a dark side and that three whispering fireflies have a sinister quest in store for her...

I was very excited to read this novel as anything that involves the grittier side of fairy tales instantly attracts my attention. But while the story didn't disappoint on that front, with the appearance of some legendary fairy tale villains, it is SO much more than a fractured traditional tale. Hazel's story begins with her being uprooted and having to make new friends - something many readers will be able to relate to. However, it also gives readers an insight into what it's like living with crippling anxiety and OCD and the strategies that can be used in the struggle to step back into the light. 

As an aspiring storyteller myself,  I was in awe of how Aisha Bushby weaved the narrative. Hazel's story is fascinating and although she feels very isolated as a main character, I also loved the supporting cast. The awkward relationship with Grant, who has her own secrets and challenges, feels very real, whilst Amelie the rabbit brings a sense of innocence which contrasts with the fireflies' sinister darkness. The world jumping was smooth but unpredictable and you were never sure what was going to happen next.

This book would be an excellent class read and perfect for creating a dialogue around mental health and OCD. Through the familiarity of the fairy tale world, it shows not tells what it is like to live with a disorder that can potentially control your whole life. Wonderfully plotted and written with a deep insight, this is a book I will definitely read again in the future. 

A big thanks to NetGalley and Farshore for allowing me a review copy. A Flash of Fireflies is out in the UK tomorrow, 9th June 2022. 

Wednesday 1 June 2022

NEW RELEASE: While the Storm Rages by Phil Earle


Published by: Anderson Press, 2nd June 2022

A heartbreaking and powerful novel for all animal lovers and lovers of historical fiction, While The Storm Rages sheds a new light upon life in WWII. When war is declared and the government advises everyone in the city to have their pets put to sleep, surely they can't be serious...can they?

For Noah, the thought of ending the life of his young dog, Winn, is unthinkable. Determined to do anything to save her, he sets off on a mission to find her a haven where she can shelter from the war whilst he is evacuated. But it's not a solo journey for soon Noah finds him accompanied by his best friend, Clem, his nemesis, Big Col, and a whole host of animals including a gigantic python. Now the pressure is on for Noah to save them all or is will his plan sink before it's even begun?

This is a corker of an adventure that has a heartbreaking poignancy from the get-go. Despite reviewing several excellent WWII novels over the past year or so - namely When The War Came Home and The Valley of Lost Secrets by Lesley Parr - Phil Earle's novel offers a completely new insight into the period. I was shocked that I had never really considered what happened to animals and pets and devastated to learn the truth about the moral dilemma that people faced. 

Although beautifully written with a pacy plot and lots of nail-biting action, this is not an easy read. There are some terribly sad scenes that will make your heart bleed but then, this is the gritty reality of war that not even four-legged (or no-legged) creatures could escape. Yet, despite not pulling any punches, Phil Earle adds in hope, courage, a touch of humour and some good old banter to rally the spirits. I particularly loved any scene that involved the boat or Samson the donkey and the ending didn't disappoint, although I definitely wanted to see more of Delilah the snake! 

Noah was a great main character. His courage and desperate determination felt immediate and raw. What moved me most, however, was seeing the incredulity of what war actually meant through his eyes as the world changed overnight. That fall from innocence combined with the innocent exuberance of Winn is what makes this novel really special and it's definitely a read that I'm not going to forget. 

A big thanks to NetGalley and Anderson Press for allowing me to read a review copy. While the Storm Rages is released tomorrow, 2nd June 2022, in the UK. 

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