Tuesday 28 February 2023

UPCOMING RELEASE FOR JUNE 2023: Greenwild - The World Behind The Door by Pari Thomson, illustrated by Elisa Paganelli

Link to publisher

Published by: Macmillan, 1st June 2023


There's a lot of talk about this upcoming series and no wonder! Greenwild: The World Behind The Door is superb. Aimed at a middle grade audience, it is a portal fantasy which focusses on 'green magic', with echoes of the secret garden. 

Daisy has spent her life travelling from place to place and living in her mother's shadow. But when her mother embarks on a trip alone and doesn't return, Daisy's world is upended. Escaping boarding school, she follows the only clue she has and discovers the door to Greenwild.

Taking refuge in this magical world, awestruck Daisy begins to make friends who agree to help her in her quest to find her mother. For she is not the only one missing and it soon becomes clear that the Greenwild and the world beyond is under deadly threat and everyone has something to lose. 

Rich and imaginative with enthralling descriptions, this is a story that reaches out with it's magical tendrils, takes root in your heart and mind and pulls you in to a fully immersive adventure. From tropical glasshouses to larder trees to a sighing forest to carnivous plants, each chapter is a jungle of discovery and delight. There's safety in the arms of Artemis and deadly danger in the form of Craven. Mixed with a menagerie of friends and animals, a moonlight market and dangerous missions, it made me feel I was curled up in the safe branches of an oak tree one minute and facing a poison-tipped arrow on the next. 

The ecological themes are clear to see throughout the novel: the destructive impact humans have on the planet, the urgency needed to turn things around and the grief of what we have already lost. Yet, through the world of Greenwild, Pari Thomson celebrates the wonder and beauty of the natural world and, through the magical elements of the story and the amazing descriptions, brings a fresh sense of awe, hope and possibility. 

Daisy is a great main character; uprooted, uncertain but driven by the love for her mother. Her peer group are fun and endearing and her burgeoning friendship with Hal reminded me very much of Colin and Mary in the secret garden. There were moments when I wondered how the plot was all going to fit together but, rest assured, the end brings twist and twist, proving that nothing has gone unplotted.

As a reader and a lover of fantasy, there is nothing more exciting that being introduced to a new world and this is something truly special. The illustrations by Elisa Paganelli bring an extra spark of joy and I highly recommend this to competent middle-grade readers, teenagers and adults alike. 

A big thanks to NetGalley and MacMillan for allowing me a review copy. Greenwild: The World Behind The Door is available to pre-order and is released in June. 

Monday 27 February 2023

UPCOMING RELEASE: Crookhaven by J.J. Arcanjo

Published by: Hachette, 2nd March 2023

With rich world-building and an enthralling plot, Crookhaven is a fabulous new middle-grade series perfect for fans of boarding school adventures. Think Harry Potter or Skandar but in a real-world setting with talented crooks for students. 

Gabriel Avery is exceptional at picking pockets - a skill he has learnt to stop himself and his beloved grandmother going hungry. But when, one day, he his caught by Caspian Crook, he is invited to join the secretive school of Crookhaven. Crookhaven is a place where thieves are taught to become exceptional in the arts of hacking, forgery, crimnastics, tricks of the trade, lock-picking and more, but ONLY to right the wrongs of the world and take back what has been robbed from the innocent. 

But Gabriel is on another mission too. Desperate to uncover the identity of his parents, will Crookhaven give him the skills to find them? 

It didn't take long to become fully immersed in J.J Arcanjo's brilliantly imagined world. Yes, there are definite similarities to other stories in this genre and yet it is still original enough to offer something new. With skilled writing and a premise akin to Robin Hood, it poses thought-provoking questions about morality and offers a contemporary insight into criminal activity. I particularly liked how up-to-date technology such as drones, security systems and hacking mingled with timeless pickpocketing and forgery.

The plot, set across the school year, is pacy and friendship is also a key theme of the novel. From Hermoine-esque Penelope to the Brothers Crim to the smooth Caspian Crook, the cast is well-balanced, entertaining, and representative of finding your place and identity in secondary school. I really enjoyed the point system and the break-in challenge and these added extra layers to the novel. There's a great twist at the end, establishing this series as a definite one-to-watch and I can't wait to see how the rest of the story unfolds. 

A big thanks to NetGalley and Hachette for allowing me a review copy. Crookhaven publishes this Thursday, 2nd March 2023. 

Tuesday 21 February 2023

Picture Book Round-up: A look at some of the latest releases.

If there is anything that is going to brighten up the long winter months at the beginning of the year, it is a new selection of picture books. As always, readers are in for a treat with a range of rhyming and non-rhyming, fiction and non-fiction texts full of funny antics, colourful characters and fascinating information. 

How to Make a Story by Naomi Jones and Ana Gomez

 Link to Waterstones

Published by: Oxford University Press 


Milo wants to make up a story but he's not sure how. How should it start? What happens in the middle? And what if he gets it wrong? With the help of his family (including his rather annoying siblings), a lot of imagination and a good look at the world around him, Milo is soon off to a thrilling start. Can he actually make a story?

This cleverly put together picture book is an amalgamation of creation. Not only is it highly entertaining, it will inspire young readers to have the confidence to make up their own stories inside or outside of the classroom. The text and illustrations work in perfect harmony together and encourage wannabee storytellers to take ideas from what is happening around them, mix them with a large dollop of imagination and twist their story into something magical. There are no right or wrong answers because ANYTHING can happen in stories. 

Although Milo's imagination runs wild in the text, the author cleverly uses his uncertainty to introduce little ones to basic story structure, making it an excellent tool for early years teachers. Storytelling doesn't need to be plagued by rules but a tale does need a beginning, a middle and an end and this is gently explored as the story progresses. It's fun, it's educational and it inspires young minds to get creative!

Meet The Weather by Caryl Hart and Bethan Woollvin

Published by Bloomsbury, 2nd March 2023


Another brilliant asset for any classroom or bookshelf at home is the third in the series of 'Meet The...' by Caryl Hart and Bethan Woollvin. Following on from Meet The Planets and Meet The Oceans, Meet The Weather is a narrative non-fiction text written in rhyme designed to introduce picture book readers to the world around us. 

Take a hot air balloon ride through the skies to learn about the sun, rain, snow, fog and lots of other weather types we experience on Earth. There's lots to explore!

This is possibly our favourite of the series yet. The bright, bold illustrations by Bethan Woollvin leap off the page like a rainbow leaping across the sky and the rhyming text is informative yet fun. The language is great and includes some lovely 'weather words' and sensory descriptions. There's lots to notice on every page and it's a great way to begin discussions on how different weathers are formed. Why not read the story and create a weather chart with your little one? Or take a walk in different weathers? Make a windsock? Make up a weather forecast? The activities that could be linked to this book are endless. 

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

The Bowerbird by Julia Donaldson and Catherine Rayner

Published: Pan Macmillan, 30th March 2023


This beautiful tale of how a bowerbird attracts a mate is the perfect mix of fiction and non-fiction and another useful teaching tool for nature and habitats. Told in Julia Donaldson's famously renowned rhyme, it is a story full of hope and heart. 

Bert wants to find love and hopes that his carefully constructed bower will attract the bowerbird of his dreams. But when Nanette arrives, she's not impressed. Will Bert's hard work and presents win her over in the end or is she not the right bird for Bert after all?

Bert is a gorgeously endearing character who is bound to win over the hearts of young readers. He may not have the best luck but his efforts and determination will make you root for a happy ending. The cumulative text is warm and fun and catchy, encouraging little ones to join in with the story and become familiar with rhythm and rhyme. The illustrations by Catherine Rayner are stunning, very different in style to the illustrators who usually work alongside Julia Donaldson and capture Bert's quest with as much warmth as the text. 

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

Beware the Blue Bagoo by Karl Newson and Andrea Stegmaier

Published by: Happy Yak, Quarto, 9th February 2023


Kids love a memorable character and the blue bagoo is certainly that. But what exactly is it and where does it live?

After hearing endless tales about the scary blue bagoo, a detective sets out to uncover the truth about this mysterious creature. The town may be rife with rumours but the blue bagoo is hard to track down. Will the tales prove to be tall or true?

Told in simple, catchy and sing-songy rhyme, this is a story that's full of important themes: judging others, spreading rumours, evoking fear, being kind and discovering the truth for yourself. There's a fun twist that will keep readers on their toes and a satisfying ending that could help to support an early years PSHE lesson or simply prompt discussion at home. Although the message is serious though, the tone remains light throughout and I'm pretty positive that there will be a lot of little ones who want a blue bagoo toy at the end of their bed. 

A big thanks to NetGalley and Happy Yak at Quarto for allowing us a review copy. 

Oh Armadillo! This Party's All Wrong by Ellie Irving and Robert Starling

Link to publisher

Published by: Happy Yak, Quarto, 9th February 2023


This party text is a corker! Fun and fabulous but with an important message, little readers will fall in love with the characters, colour and chaotic antics that appear on every page.

When Armadillo throws a party for his jungle friends, they are quick to tell him he has done EVERYTHING wrong. Poor Armadillo may have misinterpreted what his friends have asked for but is the party really a failure? Maybe fun and laughter can still be found if everyone keeps an open mind...

Hilariously funny and full of silly scenarios, this energetic and vibrant story will keep young readers engaged and entertained. The sponge cake is particularly brilliant and Armadillo's interpretation of Pass the Parcel is also highly amusing. However, there is a valuable take away from the tale: it's okay to think differently and we should accept, value and learn from those that do. This is perfect for fans of Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet or anyone who fancies a light-hearted, party-fuelled story that will make them laugh.

A big thanks to NetGalley and Happy Yak at Quarto for allowing us a review copy. 

Wednesday 15 February 2023

Ghosts of Mars by Stuart White including Author Interview

Published: 13th Feb 2023

I haven't reviewed many sci-fi novels on the blog so I was very excited to get my hands on Ghosts of Mars by Stuart White which publishes this week. Set on Mars, this is a story with epic world-building, an exciting and pacy plot and a character who doesn't play by the rules...

Eva Knight is famous for being the first Martianborn human although she doesn't particularly enjoy that status. What Eva wants is to be an astronaut, something which she can never be thanks to being a type 1 diabetic. But when her dad gets trapped in a mining vent far from their base AND in a dust storm, Eva is determined to save him. Will her ability to wield a mysterious sword and her connection with some strange ghost-like figures help or hinder her quest?

The brilliantly designed cover by Jennifer Jamieson immediately drew me into this story and the reader is quickly plunged into an action-packed plot. I really enjoyed the character of Eva, whose lack of regard for obeying orders leads her into situations that have high stakes for herself and others. There's a great cast of characters - Quasar Jones being one of the best character names I have ever come across - and a formidable antagonistic force in Darshi.

One of the highlights, for me, was definitely the world-building. Stuart White has created a martian world so vivid that I found myself having dreams about it. Eva's love for her dad and her friends bring the heart and there are some big revelations and twists at the end. There's a strong element of mystery to the novel throughout which keeps readers guessing and Eva's medical condition is explored and represented with genuine authenticity, not only raising awareness of type 1 diabetes but placing a character who lives with it centre stage. 

Overall, this is a wonderfully imagined world which I would recommend for competent middle grade readers. The text is fairly dense and the vocab is complex, although I didn't feel bogged down in overly descriptive jargon. Combined with a fast-moving plot, it is a book readers can really get their teeth into.

Ghosts of Mars is now available to buy from popular online retailers. Read down for our author interview with Stuart White.

Interview with Stuart White, author of Ghosts of Mars

Hi Stuart, congratulations on the publication of your debut novel. How does it feel to hold your published book in your hands?

Even better than holding my new-born children! No, it's nice of course, especially after being involved in every stage of publication and development, so it really does feel like 'my book' rather than the vision of other people, so that's been massive for me.

Ghosts of Mars is a sci-fi novel full of brilliant world-building? Is science fiction what you love to write and what gave you the idea for the world you have created?

Yes, I adore sci-fi - it's always my go-to in terms of TV or movies or books, but it's not as popular as other genres so good material is harder to come by. I love fantasy very much, too. Anything considered 'speculative' is definitely a vibe for me. In terms of this book, I read two books about five years ago, called Red Rising and The Martian in succession (both set on Mars) and it fuelled my desire to create my own version of a future colony on the Red Planet. The character of Eva came afterwards, and she is moulded by the restrictions the world has on her personally. I also wanted the world to be realistic in the timeframe between now and when it's set in the 2040's, so lots of research went into possible colony base designs and the level of tech and equipment we'll see over the next 10-20 years.

Your main character, Eva, has Type 1 diabetes. Although this is not the focus of the story, how important do you think it is to represent character’s with disabilities and medical conditions in children’s fiction?

The most important thing. Even above the story, in some ways. As you say, it's not the central focus and that's conscious - I could have written about those struggles more specifically from my own experience, but when you have a condition or disability, you want a release from the daily struggles and reality of living with it. There's definitely room for stories which explore the conditions and disability as a focal point, but this wasn't what I wanted for this story. Characters with disabilities can be heroes too, and it doesn't need to be about overcoming their disability to be the hero, it's being the hero while living with it, and its complications and barriers. Because that reflects life and what diabetic kids are looking for - a life like everyone else, or even more extraordinary, alongside managing their condition.

If you had to describe Ghosts of Mars in three words, what would they be?

Ghosts, Sword, Mars (sorry, that's basically the title!)

You made the decision to self-publish your book. Has this been a positive experience and do you have more novels on the way?

Yes, and yes! I thought about doing it for a long time, and always dithered. But the moment I decided, there was clarity and there was certainty. I was empowered and felt fully autonomous in my own destiny. A feeling that had deserted me after years of querying and rejection, the odd (mistaken) acceptance, and my general mood about writing and publishing. It has transformed me on both a creative and a personal front. And it's only the beginning - my 18 month plan is well underway and I'm excited about what the future brings.

Can you tell us something about this book that you are most proud of?

I am proud of the disability representation, of course, but also the standard of the finished product. Self-publishing has a, perhaps fair, reputation of people uploading sub-standard books with poor covers and very little/no editing etc, and one thing I wanted to achieve with this book was to produce something that would sit comfortably alongside books produced by top publishers, and I think it does. Much love has to go to my brilliant editors and illustrator, who made the difference in that regard. Any sub-standard components in the book are purely down to me! :-)

Thanks so much for talking to us, Stuart. Just before you go, do you have one tip for any aspiring writers out there?

Stop looking around, hoping and waiting, gazing enviously at others, and go your own way. You're not a side-character. Be the hero in your own story.

Brilliant advice Stuart and we wish you every success with this book and future ones. 

Wednesday 8 February 2023

New and Upcoming Releases: Young Fiction

Call The Puffins by Cath Howe, Illustrated by Ella Okstad

Published by: Welbeck Publishing, 2nd March 2023


Call The Puffins! is a new young fiction series for 5-7's and we instantly fell in love with it. Short and accessible, this simple story follows Muffin the Puffin as she heads to the island of Egg and begins her training to become part of the search and rescue team...

Muffin is about to follow in her parents footsteps and begin her training on the island of Egg. But starting a new chapter is tricky, especially when it involves making new friends and rising to new challenges. 

Worried that her turned up feet may hamper her dreams of becoming a search and rescue puffin, Muffin struggles with her anxiety. Does she have what it takes to fit in and become part of the team?

Perfect for bird and nature lovers, this is a gorgeous concept for a young fiction series. Although the story is simple, the world-building is delightful, the plot has high stakes and Muffin is a very relatable character for young children who may be about to start school or join a new club and step out into the world. There's a strong emphasis on teamwork and a focus on how to cope with and overcome anxiety. I particularly loved the inclusive feel of the text and the representation of characters with disabilities. Muffin has upturned feet, which actually help not hinder her, and Muffin's friend, Tiny, has problems with his eyesight. Together, however, they make a formidable duo and the daring ending showcases that there is going to be a lot of exciting things to come from future books in the series. 

A big thanks to NetGalley and Welbeck Publishing for allowing us a review copy. Call the Puffins! is available to pre-order.

Hotel Of The Gods: Beware the Hellhound

Published by: Hachette, 2nd February 2023


If you're after another genius concept that's hilariously funny, why not try Hotel Of The Gods. This is a riotous, brilliantly written caper which left us immediately wanting more...

When Atlas' parents mysteriously land new jobs running a luxurious hotel, he's really excited. This might be just the thing to change his family's luck. 

But when they arrive at the hotel, they soon find this is no ordinary hotel. This is a holiday destination for ancient gods and goddesses who are no longer worshipped by humans. With prankster Maui showing him the ropes, a dragon in the pool and a gateway to the Underworld in the basement, Atlas is not finding his new life a bed of roses. But when he accidentally unleases Cerberus, a .;' three-headed hellhound and a whole host of other monsters, he has to do something FAST!

This is definitely one of our favourite reads of 2023. It fits perfectly with any classroom teaching around gods and goddesses but is aimed at a slightly younger audience than the Loki series by Louie Stowell, Who Let The Gods Out? by Maz Evans or The Nothing To See Here Hotel by Steven Butler. There are a lot of characters, though, and the plot is busy, possibly making it more suitable for the older end of the 5-7 age-range.

The characters are brilliant. Although Atlas is the only child in the story, the mix of incredibly fun gods and goddesses alongside Pegasus, a water dragon and other numerous mythical creatures makes every chapter highly entertaining.  Expect chaos, carnage and MAXIMUM fallouts mixed with rock concerts, makeovers and honey and banana smoothies. There's also scope for plenty more adventures and, with the next two books already on their way, I think we are in for a treat. 

A big thanks to NetGalley and Hachette for allowing us a review copy. Hotel of the Gods: Beware The Hellhound is out now.

The Wishkeeper's Apprentice by Rachel Chivers Khoo, illustrated by Rachel Sanson

Published by: Walker Books, 2nd March 2023


Crackling with magic and charm, The Wishkeeper's Apprentice, aimed at the 7-9 age group is a cosy but fast-moving read with plenty of twists and super-high stakes...

Rupus Beewinkle has got himself in a pickle. Being the Wishkeeper of Whittlestone is a very busy job and he needs an apprentice. So when Felix Jones makes a wish, Rupus ends up hiring him. 

As Felix begins to discover the magic behind making a wish, things soon take a sinister turn when they discover there is a Wishsnatcher in town. And when Rupus himself is snatched, it's up to Felix to save him and ALL the wishes of Whittlestone.

This delightful story initially feels as light and frothy as a milkshake or even a cup of snorlicks but there is a dark and dangerous undertone running through it which adds a fairy tale vibe. The villain is particularly grim and gripping with echoes of the traditional fairy tale wolf and I loved how the light of Rupus Beewinkle contrasted with the dark of this creature. There's also an excellent twist to the characterisation and an interesting exploration of what makes a villain a villain.

Felix is a great character and his relationship with his older sibling, Rebecca, is both relatable and heartwarming. Becoming Rupus' apprentice has huge consequences for Felix, which gives the story a big hook. Without this dramatic turn, however, I would still have kept reading. Rachel Chivers Choo has created a whimsical world of wishes that is warm, wild and just wonderful to be part of. 

A big thanks to NetGalley and Walker Books for allowing us a review copy. The Wishkeeper's Apprentice is available to pre-order.

Woodland Magic: The Stranded Otter by Julie Sykes and Katy Riddell

Published by: Piccadilly Press, 9th March 2023


It's only a couple of weeks before the third book in this  gorgeous nature series is released and I think it might be our favourite yet. With a dramatic rescue and a dramatic capture, it will keep young readers on the edge of their seats, engage them with charming characters and educate them on how we can look after the environment.

Cora and Jax are desperate to be made official Keepers but when they are tasked with building and monitoring a bug hotel, their focus is distracted by a baby otter who needs rescuing. Can they use the raft they have been working on with their friends to save the day? And will everyone get the happy ending they are hoping for?

This cleverly devised concept ticks so many boxes. Not only is there a strong environmental focus which highlights the importance of rewilding, each story features an animal rescue too. The Keepers - tiny, secret people who work tirelessly to repair the damage Ruffins cause - are warm-hearted and fun, with an element of magic, but who also take their responsibilities very seriously. 

The story is both entertaining and educational. Julie Sykes balances the more serious moments with lots of friendship fun: parties and raft races and mouth-watering descriptions of food. The gentle themes of teamwork, discipline and when to abide or not abide by rules are not didactic and yet the consequences of a Keeper's choices is always explored. This is a series perfect for nature lovers, animal lovers, lovers of secret magical folk and a valuable resource for teachers who are looking for stories to support their curriculum topics. 

A big thanks to NetGalley and Piccadilly Press for allowing me a review copy. 

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...