Wednesday 31 August 2022

NEW RELEASE: Wolves in Helicopters by Sarah Tagholm and Paddy Donnelly

Published by: Anderson Press, 1st September 2022


Calling all brave young readers. This brand new, debut picture book from Sarah Tagholm, illustrated by the brilliant Paddy Donnelly, is a complete 'hide-under-the-bed-covers' spine-tingler. But fear not! But for if you dare open the pages and enter into Hop's night terrors, you might be surprised by what you find...

Hop suffers from night terrors and although she knows they're not real, that doesn't stop her from being terrified of them. But when her mum gives her some advice, Hop realises that there might just be a way to overcome them...if only she can find his courage within. 

As an adult who loves spooky stories, I found this tale deliciously dark and edgy and so did my son. However,  for children who suffer from nightmares, fears or worries (don't we all at some point in our lives), then this book is so much more than 'just a story' and offers a comforting and empowering message to all young readers. 

Hop's journey is about overcoming darkness, taking control and finding light and comfort in the bleakest and scariest of situations. What's particularly great is that young readers can relate to Hop and her dreams through the pages of the story - a safe and non-threatening way of exploring - and rejoice as the story flips on its head in the cleverest and COOLEST twist ever. It reminded me a lot of the Boggart scenes in Harry Potter and will leave little ones' imaginations fired up with both hope, excitement and their own humorous solutions to overcoming bad dreams. 

Published in hardback, this is an exquisitely beautiful book. The colour palette chosen by Paddy Donnelly feels both menacing yet soothing and there's a beautiful balance of danger versus safety within the pages which echoes through both the repetitive text and the pictures. There's still increasing stakes, however, making the ending even more satisfying and I really think there's something incredibly special about this new release. 

Wolves In Helicopters is out TODAY, 1st September 2020. 

Alice Eclair, Spy Extraordinaire by Sarah Todd Taylor


Published by: Nosy Crow, 4th Aug 2022


As an aspiring writer, I'm often told, 'Write the story you wanted to read as a child'. The problem is, I don't always know what that is until I've seen it. But now I've seen it! Just like with Laura Ellen Anderson's Rainbow Grey, Alice Eclair, Spy Extraordinaire is a story I would have gobbled up as a child faster than Alice's patisseries. I mean, what more could you want than a good old mystery whisked together with some mouth-watering baking?

'Baker by day, spy by night', Alice Eclair leads a busy double life. When a mysterious message sets Alice a mission on board France's most glamorous train, the teenage sleuth must combine her baking and her spy skills to complete the daring and dangerous task. But who should she trust...NO ONE!

Perfect for fans of  the Adventures on Trains series, baking fanatics and young detectives, this novel is pacy, punchy and totally enthralling, moving faster than the train Alice is on itself. After falling in love with the gorgeous front cover, designed by Beatriz Castro, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. Was it a chapter book? A story for lower middle grades? Whatever it was, it looked inviting enough to jump right to the top of my huge TBR pile. 

However, the actual story inside the pages blew me away. If you're expecting a light-hearted frothy story, think again. Yes, there is froth and icing and shimmery stars, but the tale Sarah Todd Taylor has plotted is fun yet hard-hitting, with a serious nod to the work spies did during World War II and the lives that were balanced on a knife edge, depending on who got the upper hand. This is slightly more than a fictional spy novel and I felt that, through her history lesson, Sarah Todd Taylor truly opened my eyes to the real risks of being a spy, placing it, for me, in the middle-grade age-range. I loved Alice's strong, determined character and it was really refreshing to see a brilliantly capable female spy in the making. 

So, if you love danger, daringness and the temptation of something delicious, this series is definitely one to devour. With a narrative that's twistier and turnier than train tracks and surprises that will jolt you out of your seat, the secret is out -IT'S BRILLIANT!

Tuesday 30 August 2022

UPCOMING RELEASE Sticky Pines: The Valley of the Strange by Dashe Roberts

Published by: Nosy Crow, 1st September 2022

It's back and it's brilliant! It's been a bit of a wait for the third instalment of the Sticky Pines saga but, for me, it's been totally worth it...

Following Lucy Sladan's discovery of the Pretenders, still no one in Sticky Pines is willing to believe her. But the ruthless Mr. Fisher knows she is on to something and poor Milo is torn between his father and his friend. As Mr. Fisher becomes obsessed with finding the source of the sticky-pine sap and destroying the Pretenders, Lucy must race to find the secrets first. But can she protect the Pretenders and will Milo agree to help?

This is cult sci-fi at its best; funny, creepy and full of teenagers trying to navigate life. It's perfect for fans of Jennifer Killick and, as it states on the Nosy Crow website: 
"Perfect for the younger siblings of Stranger Things fans.'

I agree whole-heartedly with this statement. Dashe Roberts' writing, especially her characters' snappy banter, is as addictive as a tray of sugary doughtnuts and you just can't help bingeing on it. The plot is compelling and highly original, giving us a whole new take on alien life, and there's a whole 80's vibe running through the story, making it both comparable but very different to Stranger Things. If you're fans of both then you're in for a double treat!

In this instalment you can expect high stakes and lots of drama all infused with an hilarious touch. It's serious yet spoofy, it's dramatic but goofy. Milo has designs on Lucy, Gus is adorable and Lucy is on a mission! Yet beneath it all lies the familiar but hard-hitting message about the destructive and ignorant nature of the human race. Lucy's determined to be the difference, however, and despite her bulldozing behaviour equalling Mr. Fisher's at times, you have to admire her spunky, out-spoken, go-getting attitude - at least she's on the right side... or is she? Milo's certainly not sure and he's about to get caught in the crossfire!

So could there be even better news than the third book being available to buy from 1st September? Yes, there can! Because, despite us being used things coming in threes, it appears that Sticky Pines is going to go beyond being a trilogy, meaning there's more to come. And you just know it's going to be GOOD!

A huge thank you to NetGalley and Nosy Crow for allowing me a review copy. The Valley of the Strange is released this Thursday 1st September 2022.

Monday 29 August 2022

Our Summer Round-Up of Picture Books (including what's coming up!)

While I've been reading novels all summer, bedtime with our little readers have been all about picture books. Even at 11, 9 and 7, my three still love a picture book and refuse to settle without one. What I've loved about this summer, though, is that all three of them have also (independently) been devouring books of their choosing; chapter books, non-fiction books, graphic novels, and yet still want that shared storytime at the end of the day. Thanks to these new releases, we certainly haven't been short of new material...

Sid's Big Fib by Roo Parkin and Irina Augustinavich

Link to publisher

Published by: Maverick Publishing, 28th July 2022


WOW! What a treat! We've been waiting for this one ever since it was announced. With its hooky title and bold front cover, Sid's Big Fib seemed to be promising us an in-your-face story filled with bucketloads of fun and chaos, and that is exactly what we got!

It's Monday morning and Sid and his friend, Lulu are trying to outdo each other's weekend activities. But when a fib slips out of Sid's mouth, it soon escalates beyond his control. Can he put things right?

As a former primary teacher, I really enjoyed the fact that this story is based around child banter in the playground. The weekend scenarios are hilarious and Roo Parkin nails Sid's perspective as he tries to compete with his friends.

Keeping up the pretence of a fib is hard work and readers will see the comical lengths Sid has to go to to maintain his snowballing lie. Hidden underneath the humour, of course, is the clear, but not didactic, message of the importance of telling the truth and the text comes to a neat full-circle conclusion. The illustrations by Irina Augustinavich are fantastic and this has now become a firm favourite amongst our other bright, quirky and cleverly funny picture books from Maverick Publishing. 

Never Let a Diplodocus Draw by Rashmi Sirdeshpande and Diane Ewen

Link to publisher

Published by: Penguin, 18th August 2022


As above, the arrival of this pre-order caused great excitement. The third in the series of 'Never Let a [Dinosaur]'... this is probably our favourite so far (and we've loved all of them). 

Never Let a Diplodocus Draw. Who knows what could happen? Things might spiral out of control...and then what? Where might it all end? Why not turn the pages and find out...

Celebrating the power of imagination and the importance of having dreams and aspirations, this 'what if' book teaches young readers never to impose limitations upon themselves. Each book in the series pays homage to the gift of education and dreaming big and focuses on the exciting things that can happen as a result. 

What we particularly loved about this story was the celebration of creativity and the infectiousness of it. My son chuckled at the colours and the splats and revelled in the characters' freedom to be able to explore, experiment and make a mess that was valid and valued. Mix in the fact that, of course, the genius aspect of the series is that the main character just happens to be a dinosaur and you have a winner of story. The illustrations are incredible with lots of extras to spot - particularly look out for characters you may have met before - and we're already on the edge of our seats wondering if this is the last we'll see of this dream series and dream creators. 

The Elephant Detectives by Ged Adamson

Link to publisher

Published by: Nosy Crow, July 2022


Highly entertaining, this story stole our hearts with its charm and general gorgeousness. Gentle and yet totally endearing, can you help the elephant detectives solve the case of the missing elephant?

When Alan's elephant goes missing, he's relieved to bump into Edie, an elephant detective. Convinced she knows where the elephant has gone, they search everywhere; from doughnut shops to a museum, but without any success. Will the elephant ever turn up? And why is Edie so keen to help?

With the entertaining illustrations telling an alternative story to the text, this book is a great opportunity for little ones to become detectives themselves and stay one step ahead of the characters. We loved how the elephant facts were interpreted by Edie and twisted into a highly original adventure. There's a lovely nod to how important a child's relationship with a pet or animal can be and also to the importance of friendship. It left us with a warm, fuzzy feeling and a smile on our faces!

One Tiny Dot by Lucy Rowland and Gwen Millward

Link to Waterstones

Published by: Templar, April 2022


If the world needs more of anything, it's kindness and this beautifully written rhyming story is a gentle and poignant example of how wonderful things could be if we all embraced it. Exploring the impact that kindness has on both individuals and the community, it is the perfect text for the classroom and for discussing emotions.

Dot is kindness, determined to spread joy. As it travels through the book, how will it deal with others who don't feel the same?

Our favourite things about this book were the infectiousness of kindness and the depiction of anger and sadness. We also loved how Dot physically transformed as a result of kindness, resembling how it makes us feel inside. Both the text and the illustrations give the book a wonderful feel of inclusivity and, aside from the rhyme, this felt different in style to Lucy Rowland's well-known fairy tale retellings, which we also love. 

I-Spy Island, Book vs. Shark by Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet

Link to publisher

Published by: Simon and Schuster, July 2022


Stories about inanimate objects are a personal favourite of mine and, considering the success of Supertato amongst the other countless picture books Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet have created, it appears they are popular in general. After thoroughly enjoying the first I-Spy Island story, we were really excited for the release of the second and I-Spy an S for another Success. 

What do you do when you spy a book that's lost its story and a shark that's bored? Well that's what Island, Glove, Banana, Bottle and Bird and Treasure Chest need to work out when the two things collide right on their shores. Will this round of the game have a happy ending?

The first story in this series, which we reviewed a year ago, was an hilarious, quirky and slightly random tale featuring an eclectic group of objects. What I love about book two, however, is the extra depth the tale brings to the series. My son loved finding out about the character's backgrounds - providing a context for how they all ended up on Island - and so did I! The plot is brilliant and the fact that is still set within the boundaries of a game of I-Spy made us laugh out loud. 

Book is a great new character, subtley highlighting the importance of stories and storytelling. This isn't the first tale I've read where a book has lost its story but it is the first that involves a shark. And as Shark seems intent on creating waves, there might be a tense climax...or a fun twist...we're not going to spoil it for you. This is definitely a new firm favourite of ours amongst our many other books by this phenomenally talented duo. It rocks!

The Fairy Dogmother by Caroline Crowe and Richard Merritt

Published by: Little Tiger, July 2022


A fairy tale retelling is always popular in our house and this one is great fun. Changing 'godmother' to 'dogmother' opens up a whole new story inside the walls of Woofington's Dog Shelter, where Cinders is living his best life...or so he thinks. 

What should a dog wish for when his fairy dogmother turns up? Cinders isn't sure. He has friends, food and space to dig so he asks advice from his friends. With lots of ideas, will Cinders ever decide?

With vibrant and fun illustrations, depicting the lovely life the dogs have at the dog shelter, this is a more upbeat retelling than the original that sparkles with magic and creativity. 'Pawfect' for both fans of fairy tales and for animal-lovers, the themes of friendship and family tug at the heartstrings like a dog pulls on a lead. The ending is heart-warming and Cinders and his four-legged friends steal the show from the start. The fairy dogmother is a vision to behold - just look at that pink! - and the story will have you wanting to take a trip to the local dog shelter. If only all dogs had their own fairy dogmother...

UPCOMING RELEASE:We Are The Shapes by Kevin Jenner

Link to publisher

Published by: Happy Yak, Quarto, 2nd August 2022


During a recent picture book retreat, I was lucky enough to hear a talk from the director of Happy Yak about their new picture book, 'We Are The Shapes'. So, when the text became available on NetGalley, I jumped at the chance to share it with my little ones. Similar to 'The Perfect Fit' by Naomi and James Jones but with more attitude, this story follows the argument between The Squares and The Triangles, who really can't get on. 

The Squares are straightforward and reliable. The Triangles are sharp and edgy and they really don't get on. So when a fight breaks out, can circle turn things 'A-ROUND' without taking sides?

As well as being a great way for young children to learn about shapes and the properties of shape, this is a sharp, witty, character-led text which would also lend itself well to PSHE lessons about getting on and resolving conflict. The clever puns bring a light touch to the shapes' argument, ending with the overall message that it's okay to be different and that everyone has a valuable part to play. Simple but beautifully executed, this maths based story makes learning fun. 

UPCOMING RELEASE:The Littlest Yak: The New Arrival by Lu Fraser and Kate Hindley

Published by: Simon and Schuster, 29th September 2022


It wasn't long ago that Gertie, the littlest yak, took the picture book world by storm, winning lots of awards and a permenant place in the hearts of readers young and old. Well, GOOD NEWS, Gertie is back and as cute as ever. But something cuter might be on the way...

When Gertie learns she is about to become a big sister, she is over the moon. But, as she busies herself making preparations, a horrible thought suddenly strikes her. Maybe being a big sister won't be so great after all. 
Rushing to find her mummy, Gertie finds herself a little lost yak. Will Gertie be found? And will being a big sister turn out all right after all?

After falling in love with Gertie first time round, we weren't sure whether it would be possible to like this one more, but we did! Lu Fraser's rhyme is not only perfect but it evokes the most beautiful images and emotions within the reader, telling a story that will be relatable to lots of young readers. Kate Hindley's illustrations are rich and warm (despite the snowy scenery), truly giving us 'all the feels'.

Although we loved the message of the The Littlest Yak, the themes and message of this second story won our hearts. I haven't seen many new sibling stories of late but out of the ones I have read, this has to be one of the most beautiful. Without giving too much away, watch out for the heart in the snow because it will literally melt yours. With gentle humour, family dynamics and characters you won't forget, this will be the story of the winter season; gorgeous, cosy and cockle-warming.

A big thanks to NetGalley and Simon and Schuster for allowing me a review copy. The Littlest Yak: The New Arrival is available to pre-order and is out on 29th September. 

Sunday 14 August 2022

Our Summer Round-Up Of Middle Grade Books (including what's coming up!)

Summer! And what a scorcher! Although there's never much time to review in the holidays, our reading time definitely increases. With lazy lie-ins, sleepy stories in the shade and trips to the library to complete the summer reading challenge, we've been whizzing through the pages. I've even been lucky enough, courtesy of NetGalley, to get my hands on some brilliant upcoming releases...

Fight Back by A.M Dassu

Link to publisher

Published by: Scholastic, June 2022


Following the success of Boy, Everywhere, A.M Dassu has released her second novel, Fight Back - a powerful story about identity and fighting hate and discrimination. 

When Aaliyah and her friends are caught up in a terrorist attack at a local pop concert, fear grips both her and her community. It's not long before Muslims are being blamed  for the event and Aaliyah herself becomes the target of abuse. 

Determined to fight back, Aaliyah makes the decision to wear a hijab at school. But when the school responds by banning all religious symbols, will she find support to continue her fight?

With an easy-to-read, accessible voice, this is a fantastic read for teens, young adults and adults alike. Although a fictional novel, it's clearly based on real-life events, giving a moving and deeply thought-provoking insight into the devastating impact of terrorism and the division, fear and hate it creates within a community. 

What I particularly love about this novel is that it is firmly grounded in the life of a teen and full of school, friendship, older siblings and banter. And yet, amid all this, Aaliyah is grappling, not only with the horrors of the terrorist attack, but with the verbal and physical attacks she experiences on a personal level. With tensions running high, family, friendships and the stability of the whole community are threatened. This is the story of one girl's fight to make a difference. 

A.M Dassu's writing makes you feel all the emotions, whilst opening readers' eyes to the truth of the world. It calls for change in the most important way - by showing, not telling, the story of a character we care about and who bridges the gap between fiction and reality. It's enlightening, empowering and needs to be in every library, school library and classroom! 

The Great Fox Illusion by Justyn Edwards

Link to publisher

Published by: Walker Books, April 2022


Another brilliant read for upper middle-grade and teen readers is The Great Fox Illusion by Justyn Edwards. The first of a series, this is the story of Flick Lions, a young magician taking part in a TV show to win the prize of a lifetime...

The Great Fox is dead and now Flick Lions has been chosen to compete in a TV series to win his legacy. But solving puzzles and revealing the secrets behind magic tricks to win the prize is not what Flick is interested in. The Great Fox destroyed her family and she will go to any lengths to uncover the truth and put things right. 

Hooked in just by the title, this debut novel really got my attention when I read an extract in WRD magazine. Not only does it appeal to readers who love mystery and sleuth stories, it also goes one step further by giving us the USP of magic tricks and illusions. Who doesn't want to know the secrets behind these -  well, apart from Flick? But the fun doesn't stop there. Set in a mysterious, old house full of endless secrets, with the addictive feel of a reality show, Justyn Edwards has really pulled it out the bag in terms of pace, plot and puzzles. It's Now You See Me ( a brilliant adult film) for children in book form and utterly mesmerising. 

Flick is a great character. Slightly stand-offish at the start, I quickly warmed to her as we learn about her internal struggles and the high stakes that are involved in her bid to find the truth. Charlie creates a lovely balance to her reserve (as well as being totally loveable) and the mix of villains - both adult and child - works brilliantly. It was also great to see an amputee take centre stage as the main character and there are some poignant moments as Flick manages this.

For me, this ticks every box for a series. It's imaginative, packed full of puzzles and geniously put together. I absolutely can't wait for the next one...

UPCOMING RELEASE: Ember Shadows and the Fates of Mount Never by Rebecca King

Link to publisher

Published by: Hachette, 18th August 2022


Perfect for slightly younger or less confident readers, this is another high concept, debut novel with a brilliant premise. Similar to The Nightsilver Promise but on a simpler level, it features a girl without a fate...

When Ember Shadows receives a blank fate card, she has no idea what it means for her future. But when her sister's future also comes under threat, Ember resolves to journey up the mysterious Mount Never, through forbidden realms, to uncover the secret of what binds her people to their destiny. 

With echoes of Labyrinth and Escape to Witch Mountain, this is a clever play on the often asked question: are our fates set or unset? Brilliant envisaged but not over-complicated, it explores humanity's fears about knowing or not knowing the future and the freedom to make choices. I absolutely loved the set-up of the novel, the forbidden realms of the mountain and the way the threads of fate were portrayed. 

Ember is a fantastic character, relatable particularly by her motivation to help her nearest and dearest rather than herself. She is a strong but scarred heroine who pushes boundaries and asks the important questions. There is a strong theme of grief running through the novel, which I also found poignant, and which brings an extra layer to Ember's character. 

In the same way as in The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland, Ember also attracts a following of quirky, lovable and fabulously original characters on her journey. I defy anyone not to love Hans but each one is great in their own right. The journey is also compelling, with each realm offering a freshness to the novel. The chapters based around fear were particularly powerful and Rebecca King doesn't hold back in her exploration of this. It was a thoroughly enjoyable, powerful read and I'm excited to discover that, despite standing alone, this is set to be a series. 

UPCOMING RELEASE: The Whisperling by Hayley Hoskins

Link to publisher

Published by: Penguin, 1st September 2022

After hearing so much about this novel, I jumped at the chance to get my hands on a review copy (thanks NetGalley). This didn't disappoint. A dark, gothic novel, set in the late 19th century, this is compelling, character-driven writing that pulls you in from the get-go. 

Focusing on poverty, the persecution of women that are different, corruption in the church, child labour, the dangerous working conditions of the 19th century and miscarriages of the justice system, including capital punishment for young adults, this might seem like a heavy read. And yet, Hayley Hoskins, another incredibly talented debut author, has woven all of these themes into a captivating story that I didn't want to put down. Laced with humour and underpinned by friendship, this is a ghost story you won't forget in a hurry...

Peggy is a whisperling. That means she can talk with ghosts. Keeping her gift hidden is hard enough, especially when the Reverend Silas Tate is on to her. But when her best friend, Sally, is accused of murdering her employer, Peggy must travel to the city and use her gift to find the truth...before Sally faces the death penalty. 

Despite claiming to be more of a contemporary writer, Hayley Hoskins has nailed the world of 1897 Victorian Britain. Both the world and the characters jump vividly off the page, immersing us in the sights, sounds, smells and attitudes of village and city life. The characters of Ambrose, Cecily and Oti are brilliant fun and then there are the touching relationships that Peggy has with her mum, dad, little Bertie and, of course, Sally. 

The plot is action packed. There's heartbreak and horror and probably the most chilling villain I've read in a long while. Also prepare for some last minute twists and turns and a nail-biting race to the conclusion. With a writer as talented as Hoskins and a whisperling as gifted as Peggy, let's hope there might be more to come. 

UPCOMING RELEASE: The Lost Girl King by Catherine Doyle

Link to publisher

Published by: Bloomsbury, 1st September 2022


The latest offer from this very established author brings us an adventure based on Irish fairy tales. Perfect for fans of Lord of the Rings and those who love both folklore and portal fantasies, this is a story full of danger, magic and a quest to save a loved one. 

When Amy and her brother Liam are packed off to Connemara to visit their gran for the summer, they soon find themselves in the legendary world of Tír na nÓg. But it doesn't take long for them to realise that something is very wrong and when Liam is kidnapped by an army of headless horsemen, Amy, with the help of a greencloak, the Fianna and a pooka squirrel, must find a way to save him and free the land from an evil curse.

This story is classic in feel. There are strong parallels to Narnia with a land cursed by an evil ruler and yet the story and the world-building is very different in feel. Amy is a headstrong, outspoken and not always likeable main character and yet her inability to listen, her ability to speak the truth and her steely courage makes her a strong, feminine lead in a world of men.

I really enjoyed the different landscapes in the novel. From forest, to castle, to fang lands, to swamps, the settings keep the story pacy and compelling. I found the unsual presense of adults in the novel - the Fianna warriors who are comparable to Aragorn and the elves in Lord of the Rings - really interesting and, for me, this brought to the fore something I haven't seen in a while in a fantasy story. Oscar and Culaan make for a great side story and I love how the relationship between Amy and Oscar develops.

The dual narrative between Amy and Liam works well. It offers us an intriguing insight into the world of the villain - a terrifying mage - and offers clever foreshadowing to the twist at the end. If you love fairy tales, magical worlds and epic quests then this is the book for you.

Our Latest Middle-Grade reads

Oof! It's been well over a month, if not two, since we last posted a review - sorry about that! But even when life gets busy (really bus...