Monday 19 June 2023

UPCOMING RELEASE: Michael The Amazing Mind Reading Sausage Dog by Terrie Chilvers and Tim Budgen

Published by: Firefly Press, 8th June 2023

For any mind-readers out there, I don't need to tell you that we thought this chapter book was hilariously funny and you should absolutely DEFINITELY get hold of a copy. For those of you out there who do not have the same mind-reading skills as Michael the Sausage Dog, let me fill you in on why this is a great choice for the 5-8 age-group...

Michael is a small dog with a big ambition. He wants to be a su-paw-star and a Hollywoof legend. 
So when Michael discovers he can read the minds of other dogs, he knows it's not long before all his dreams will come true. But will the other residents of Snuffles-On-Sea be as quick to recognise his talent? It seems that the path to Hollywoof for Michael and his side-kick, Stanley Big Dog, might not be as smooth as he thought!

Told in the first person, this is a chapter book full of fantastic characters, big personalities and, as you can see from the blurb, lots of doggy puns. Michael's unusual talent, combined with his bold ambition, brings a lot of laughs and his side-kick Stanley Big Dog brings even more. This is a story that teaches young readers to dream big, to never give up hope but also to be prepared to fail before you succeed.

Living in the shadow of super smug Susan (another hilarious character), Michael never fails to pick himself up, dust himself off and push himself forward. There's some knockbacks and disappointments and even some EPIC fails but kids will be hooting at Michael and Stanley's antics along the way. Perfect for dog-lovers and those who love a good laugh, this definitely gets a round of a-paws from us and we're definitely hoping to see another one in the series. 

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

Thursday 15 June 2023

Summer's here! A round-up of some new middle-grade releases in time for the seasonal break...

Summer reading is all about finding a nook in a tree, cosying up on a nest swing or lazing on a hot, sandy beach. But what is on offer for middle-grade readers this season?

The Kingdom Over The Sea by Zohra Nabi

Link to publisher

Published by: Simon and Schuster, 2nd May 2023


Middle-grade fantasy is on fire this year and The Kingdom Over the Sea offers excitement and enchantment from the off. With an ambitious plot, cantankerous characters and a main character who has no idea where she belongs, readers will be pulled into an immersive and unpredictable magic carpet ride that will leave them reeling from its twists and turns.

Left alone after her mother passes away, Yara is left with nothing but a letter containing very strange instructions. Leaving behind her home, the bewildered girl travels to a place not on a map only to get on the wrong side of a ruthless alchemist. 

It's not long before Yara learns that Zehaira is a dangerous place where magic has been strictly outlawed. But can she find out why her mother sent her here and where she belongs in this unsettling place?

Sharing Yara's confusion and complete lack of knowledge about her true identity, readers are in for a treat of revelations which unravel through pages that are laced with danger, magic and mystery. This is not a cosy fantasy that makes you feel you're being enveloped in a warm hug! Instead, Zohra Nabi has created something dark and edgy which simmers with powerful magic.

Yara is a great protagonist with the odds very much stacked against her. As she stumbles into a world she knows nothing about - with no family or friends - readers will find themselves rooting for her to uncover the truth and find a place she can call home. There's some great characters introduced along the way and I particularly loved Yara's dynamic with the formidable Leyla. The ending is definitely a firework finale and I think there's going to be lots more to come. 

Until The Road Ends

Link to publisher

Published by: Anderson Press, 1st June 2023


Following on from When The Sky Falls and While The Storm Rages comes Phil Earle's latest release, Until The Road Ends. In my own humble opinion, this is a masterpiece of a novel, exquisitely crafted and definitely my favourite one yet. 

When Beau is saved from near death by a young girl, Peggy, he finally finds a home and a soulmate. But the happiness is not to last as war is declared and Peggy is evacuated.

 Unable to go with her, Beau accompanies Peggy's dad on his warden duties, saving lives in his own right. But when tragedy strikes, Beau knows Peggy will need him more than ever. Accompanied by a cat and a pigeon, he sets out to find her, but how will they ever find their way safely?

This novel focusses once again on the fate and role of animals in WWII. Wartime novels can be a hard hitting read and this is no exception - there's horror and tragedy and several terrifying scenes which are not easy to digest. And yet, through a cast of incredible characters, Phil Earle peppers the darkness with light, hope and even humour. Mabel's razor-sharp cattiness is hilarious as is Bomber's positive attitude - watch out for his incredible intervention at the end. 

However, it was Beau that stole my heart by magnifying all the things that make dogs magnificent. Based on the real life dogs who sniffed out people trapped in the wreckage of the Blitz, his loyalty, devotion and genuine goodness is both uplifting and moving. The journey of the three companions reminded me a lot of the classic film Homeward Bound but set in a far more treacherous time period. Their journey is gruelling and full of threat, both war related and not war related, but with some lighter moments too. The appearance of Koringa is a brilliant touch and the cinema scenes are gorgeous too! This is a story that is enthralling, terrifyingly immersive, educational and one I'll be talking about for a long time to come. 

Fablehouse by E.L Norry

Link to publisher

Published by: Bloomsbury, 8th June 2023

With an incredible front cover, the voice and setting of this story grabbed me from the first page. It's a tale full of heart and love and friendship and, for me, I think the Arthurian adventure takes second place to this. The tight-knit bonds that form between the characters and the important message that EVERY child matters makes this a novel that sings.

When Heather arrives at Fablehouse - a home for 'Britain's Brown Babies' - in 1954, she expects it to be as awful as all the other children's homes she's grown up in. But instead Heather finds a sense of belonging and an incredible group of new friends.

But when Heather and her group stumble across an injured knight from King Arthur's Round Table, it's not long before they realise a doorway between worlds has been breached. With the fae realm infiltrating Fablehouse. Heather must fight to save her new home and EVERY SINGLE child within it. 

This is a story about belonging but it's also a great fantasy story perfect for anyone who loves stories about the fae or Arthurian legends. There's malice and mystery, which gave me goosebumps on the back of my neck, which Heather faces with the determination and bravery of someone who passionately cares for others. The book also has echoes of those traditional tight-knit group adventures I grew up with such as The Famous Five. We have now bought a physical copy so we can go back and read this as a family - it feels like another classic in the making. 

The Magician's Daughter by Caryl Lewis

Link to publisher

Published by: Pan Macmillan, 15th June 2023

Ashamedly, Seed is still on our to be read pile but when NetGalley offered me the chance to take a sneak peek at The Magician's Daughter, I couldn't resist the title or the cover. This is another heartwarming story with family and friendship at its heart - the sort of slow burner that radiates warmth and gives you a toasty glow inside. 

Since her mum died, Abby has watched her dad's magic shows go from bad to worse. But one day, after he has decided to give up magic altogether, Abby finds a magical book in a suitcase that belonged to her mum's family. 

Soon, Abby and her dad are discovering real magic - a magic that not only reignites their own lives but which brings the whole community together. But there's only so much magic to go around and, with the spells disappearing after they have been used, Abby and her dad must use them in the best way possible. 

There are so many wonderful touches to this novel - the fact Dad and Abby live on a bus, Linda, the care home, Myra and her love of fashion - and it all twists together in a magnificent ending that feels like magic itself. Compared to high-concept, fast-paced fantasy, this is a more subtle and gentle read with community at its heart. It's about learning to live again after loss, about finding magic in the community (and in the everyday) and about understanding what is really important - it certainly contains a very special kind of magic. 

Gold Medal Mysteries: Thief on the Track by Ellie Robinson

Link to publisher

Published by: Simon and Schuster, April 2023

Written by paralympian, Ellie Robinson, this is a perfect read for those who love classic mystery stories and sport! The novel delivers what the front cover promises and a mystery set at the Tokyo World Championship Stadium feels fresh and exciting. 

When Hannah, Maria and Seb meet at the Tokyo World Championships, their friendship is quickly put to the test when an athlete has his gold medal stolen. Can the three wannabee detectives solve the mystery before anyone else and claim the reward?

This story is fun with an atmospheric setting and lots of sporting detail. The characters all bring their own skill-set and I liked the newness of their friendship. Occasionally, the pace felt a little bogged down in detail but there's a plethora of suspects and lots of different places to explore.

Something I particularly liked about the story was the level of difficulty the detectives faced. They encounter a lot of challenges during their investigations and this felt authentic for a professional sporting arena. There's lots of twists and turns and a clear USP - we're definitely looking forward to the next sporting mystery. 

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