The Secret of the Night Train – Sylvia Bishop & Marco Guadalupi

I must confess I’ve always longed to board a sleeper train and travel across Europe, it would be such a joy to go to sleep in one country and wake up in a whole new place. So when I opened up my copy of ‘The Secret of the Night Train,’ I was instantly captivated at the thought of travelling with Max from Paris to Istanbul and that’s before I knew she was about to become deeply embroiled in a complex crime-solving expedition. Beautiful storytelling meets compelling mystery unravelling in a tale of diamond smugglers, thieves and undercover detectives. Sylvia has a special talent for creating the most intriguing and wonderful characters who you can’t help but fall in love with and Max is no exception. I was totally charmed and entertained by this exciting whirlwind of a story that had me devouring the whole book in one sitting. Marco’s illustrations are beautifully detailed capturing the sheer joy of this great journey and the thrill of the chase as Max tries to uncover the true identity of the diamond thief. An irresistible and breath-taking read, I’m really hoping there is more to come from our delightful heroine Max.

Today on the blog I have a special guest post from Sylvia Bishop where we embark upon a journey from Munich to Budapest aboard the Kalman Imre.

Train no. 2: Kalman Imre (Munich – Budapest) – Sylvia Bishop

In my new book, The Secret of the Night Train, Max Morel takes a journey from Paris to Istanbul on four trains. She is accompanied by a nun called Sister Marguerite, and must solve the mystery of a smuggled diamond. I was lucky enough to do this journey myself, and wrote a lot of the book on board. In this series of blog posts, I talk about my real journey, and how it informed the book. 

So here we are at stop number 2 with Book Lover Jo (AKA Munich – Budapest)

I had never been on a sleeper train before, and it was a lot smaller than I expected.

This creates all sorts of etiquette problems. There isn’t room for everyone to stand in the couchette cars at the same time, but at some point you all have to get in there to put the bedding out on your bunk and stow your luggage (which there is not really space for). Add to this the fact that everybody speaks different languages. Get ready to smile winningly a lot.

Maybe all the smiling winningly tricked my brain, or maybe it was the delicious pizza I had eaten at Munich station, but I was having a great time. (In the original draft of this chapter, Max eats pizza too. My housemate told me off. This is the only scene set in Germany, he pointed out; at least try and be a bit German with your detail choice. So now Max wants pizza, but is marched off for schnitzel by Sister Marguerite. The moral is, if you have the temerity to offer me edits, I will fictionalise you as a bossy nun.)

It was already the middle of the night when we left, so the bunks were folded out. On the Kalman Imre everyone gets a bunk that isn’t big enough to sit up in, and a brown blanket that you have to wrap about yourself like a cocoon to get warm enough. The train guard asks if you want orange juice or apple juice for the morning, then pulls a juddering concertina door shut across your car.

I didn’t think any amount of winningly smiling would win me forgiveness for shining a light at that point, so I couldn’t write. But I could lie there imagining a little girl sneaking around in all that darkness. So I did.

Join us for the next stage of the journey tomorrow on Get Kids Into Books’ blog 

Thank you to Oliva and Scholastic for sending me a copy of this marvellous book. ‘The Secret of the Night Train,’ is available to buy now online or from any good bookshop.

Advertisements

The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle – Victoria Williamson

Today it’s my stop on the blog tour for Victoria’s Williamson’s emotionally moving debut, ‘The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle.’ This is a beautiful story about an unlikely friendship formed between school bully Caylin and refugee Reema when a shared secret brings them together. Despite seemingly having nothing in common, both girls are feeling lost and are struggling with grief as they try to find their place in the world. Caylin is forced to steal to feed herself, she never has clean clothes and doesn’t know if her Mum will ever get out of bed. While Reema can’t get used to this new country where strangers despise her, she can’t understand the language and without her brother Jamal it can never feel like home. I was totally captivated by this story that is filled with so much sadness yet so much hope. The characterisation is just marvellous you invest so much of your heart in Caylin and Reema that you become completely emotionally invested in their struggles. Despite the difficulties they both face this is an uplifting story about the power of acceptance and friendship. I just loved it and it needs to be in every primary and secondary school library.

I would like to welcome Victoria to the blog with a special guest post about finding your home.

 

Home is not a Place – Victoria Williamson

Close your eyes and think of the word ‘home’.

What’s the first image that comes to mind?

The picture you see often depends on where you are. If you’re on a crowded train during a busy commute to work, you might imagine the peace and quiet of a lazy Sunday morning breakfast at the kitchen table. If you’re at your desk in the office and the rain’s pouring down, you might conjure up a summer holiday at the beach as a child. If you’re relaxing on the sofa after a hard day’s work, it might be a weekend picnic at the local park you’re looking forward to that pops into your head first.

If you’re anything like me though, all of the images will have one thing in common: they’ll all have close family and friends somewhere in the picture, even if they’re standing just out of the frame. For Caylin and Reema in The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle, all of their happiest memories of home are filled with longing for the people they miss.

Caylin has lost her grandparents. Her granny died when she was little, but it was her grandad’s death over a year before the story begins that was the catalyst for her mother’s depression and downward spiral into alcohol abuse. Her memories of her grandad are still strong, and so sharp at times they hurt. But it’s her hazy of her granny she desperately tries to cling to, believing if she can only remember them clearly, then maybe she can bring back some of the happiness of former times before her mother’s illness too. In chapter five she says:

I pull a small photo album out from under my pillow and open it up, showing Mum the picture of a tall woman with a long curly ponytail. She’s crouching under a tree in a park beside a chubby wee girl who’s holding out her hand. They’re not looking at the camera, they’re both watching the squirrel that’s running over to snatch a nut from the girl’s outstretched palm.

“We used to go there all the time with your gran. It was her favourite place, you remember?” Mum says half to herself.

I nod again. It’s another lie. Ravensholm Park’s only twenty minutes away on the bus, but after Gran passed away Grandad was too sad to take me to feed the squirrels there any more.  It’s all just a distant blur in my head now, mixed up with Mum’s second-hand stories. I wish I could remember something, anything, about the woman in the picture.

Caylin’s half-forgotten memories of Ravensholm Park near Drumhill were drawn from my childhood trips to Dawsholm Park near Drumchapel where my own granny and grandad lived. I have very happy memories of both sets of grandparents there, feeding the squirrels, going on family picnics, and playing on the swings until the sun was setting over the Glasgow cityscape beyond the hill. Sometimes writing provides authors with an opportunity to breathe new life into these old images, preserving them in the memories of characters we have created until the boundaries between fact and fiction become blurred.

Reema’s memories of the home she lost in Syria are so clear they haunt her dreams and intrude on her waking thoughts. But whether it’s her family’s apartment or her school or the city of Aleppo she’s thinking about, all of her memories revolve around her missing brother. In chapter six she thinks:

His voice is speaking in my head. I can hear him so clearly he could be standing next to me at the school gate where he met me every day and took me home.

“Race you, Little Gazelle. Let us see who reaches the market first.”

I look up at him, twice my height and three times as broad, and know today is the day I will beat him without him letting me win.

“You are too old and slow!” I shout, already running down the street. “You could not catch me if you tried!”

I hear Jamal laugh behind me and the sound of his shoes hitting the ground as he runs to catch up. But he will not catch me today. I race past the basketball court in the school yard and across the road, dodging the slow-moving traffic snarled up in the narrow street and ignoring the shouts of drivers who are tired and grumpy in the late afternoon heat. The bright yellow of the taxis blends with the orange of the minibuses until it looks like the sun is setting right here in the road.

The sky above is still blue though. An endless vivid blue that makes my heart sing to look up at it.

In chapter twelve she can’t help comparing the playground in Drunhill to a happier memory of the one where she used to play in Aleppo with her family:

In my dreams I still see the playground in Aleppo before the war. Sara and I are climbing into the seats of the mini Ferris wheel with a whole crowd of children from our apartment building, giggling with excitement as Jamal pushes us round and round.

“Higher Jamal, higher!” I yell, spinning so close to the sky that if I reach my hands up I can almost touch the edge of the sun.  I look down to see Jamal pulling a face at me, crossing his eyes and sticking out his tongue. It makes me laugh so hard I almost fall from my seat as he spins us faster.

It isn’t just the places themselves that are the focus of Caylin and Reema’s memories. Caylin might only remember her granny at Ravensholm park, but she thinks of watching cartoons at her grandad’s house, fishing with him at the canal and family outings to the beach. Reema remembers the Citadel in Aleppo because of the trips she used to take there with her father and brother, and the Eid al-Fitr feasts because of the food she used to cook with her mother and aunt Amira. All of their memories of home are filled with the most important people in their lives, and I’m sure yours are too.

And that’s because ‘home’ isn’t a place – it’s the people we love.

Victoria Williamson

Victoria Williamson is a primary school teacher who has worked in Africa and China as well as the UK. ‘The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle,’ is her debut novel.

You can find out more about Victoria by following her on Twitter or visit her website.

 

Blog Tour

Why not join in with the rest of the blog tour for more guest posts, reviews and giveaways.

Thank you to Victoria for her beautiful guest post and for inviting me to join in with the blog tour. ‘The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle,’ is available to order now online or from any good bookshop. Twenty percent of the author royalties for this book are donated to the Scottish Refugee Council.

Gangster School – Kate Wiseman

 Today it’s my stop on the ‘Gangster School,’ blog tour with a review of this wonderfully entertaining book. What do you do if your whole plan in life is to become a criminal, where do you go to learn the necessary skills? It’s not as if you can get a G.C.S.E in burglary, forgery or extortion at your ordinary run of the mill school.  Your Food Tech teacher might teach you some horribly tasting cooking and your Maths teacher might set you some dastardly algebra questions but when it comes down to it, well that’s not actually illegal. But unknown to the rest of the world –  or as we’re secretly known the dependable world  – there are in fact top-secret schools for criminals right under our very noses in the most unexpected of places. So if you’re from a family of master criminals like our heroes Milly and  Charlie then surely the place you want to be is the top gangster school in the country Blaggards.  You would absolutely, most definitely want to be bad if your family was a bunch of villains wouldn’t you? What if your heart wasn’t in lying, cheating or stealing how could you possibly survive? Milly and Charlie soon find out that being criminal enough to keep their place at gangster school is going to be a bigger challenge than stealing the Crown Jewels!

Brilliantly entertaining and criminally good, ‘Gangster School’ is a masterly mayhem of an adventure stuffed full of thrills, danger and downright dastardly behaviour. Kate has constructed a truly believable world where lying and being bad is not just allowed it’s actively encouraged. Where else would you get into trouble for telling the truth to your teacher, get to wear a stripy top and burglar mask for a school uniform and be challenged to demonstrate excellence in unlawful distribution (that’s stealing to you and me by the way) to win a school competition?  The whole concept is wonderfully appealing and hugely funny. I love how Milly and Charlie bond over their secret that they not sure if they actually want to be felons like the rest of their family and how they discover that despite their misgivings, Blaggards really is the place they want to be. Full of twists, turns and surprises at every corner this intriguing and hilarious debut has left me wanting more.

Kate Wiseman

Kate lives in Saffron Walden with her husband, her son (when he’s home from university) and three neurotic cats. One of her cats, Maisie, is actually a ghost cat now, but Kate still talks to her every day. Before going to university at the age of 38 to study creative writing, she did lots of different jobs ranging from working in a library to promotions work. When she grew up a bit she worked in schools, doing everything from mopping up sick to judging poetry competitions.  She also has a Masters in English Literature, which she took while she was trying to gather the courage to write children’s fiction. The idea for Blaggard’s originated with her son, who used to say that when he grew up he wanted to be an evil genius. He’s now studying history, so perhaps the world is safe. Or is he just biding his time…..?

Blog Tour

Why not join in with the rest of the blog tour…

Thank you to Zuntold Publishing for inviting me to join in with the blog tour and for sending me a copy of this funny book. ‘Gangster School’ is released on May 21st and is available to pre-order now online or from any good bookshop.

The Big Book of the Blue – Yuval Zommer & Barbara Taylor

I am delighted to welcome Yuval Zommer to the blog today for a special guest post about his fabulous Big Book series in collaboration with Barbara Taylor, to celebrate the latest addition, ‘The BIg Book of Blue.’ The first two books in the collection,  ‘The BIg Book of Bugs’ and ‘The Big Book of Beasts,’ have both featured in my favourite book lists for the last 2 years because they are some of the finest illustrated non-fiction books that I’ve ever read. ‘The Big Book of the Blue,’ offers a fascinating insight into the different types of animals who live in our oceans. Dive deep into the sea to meet an array of sea creatures including the dramatically coloured dragonet, the poisonous pufferfish and flying fish  to name just a few. Discover why an octopus needs eight arms: if a ray makes electricity: why dolphins jump out of the sea and the answers to many more question in this exquisite exploration of sea life. Yuval has once again created the most sublime book filled with sumptuous spreads that invite the reader to spend hours pouring over these intricate and informative illustrations. I think it is perfectly pitched for the younger reader offering a timely reminder of  the danger our oceans face from damage caused by humans. Lavishly produced with the most interesting and thoughtful information, this book is a total triumph.

Yuval Zommer – The Inspiration Behind the Big Book series

The inspiration behind the Big Book series is the fascination and curiosity all kids have about the wonders of the natural world.

I think art and science should, and do, belong together and the best example for this is Mother Nature. I consider Mother Nature to be our best artist and our best scientist ever! The most beautiful colour palettes, amazing patterns, best inventive design and unique textures can all be found in even the smallest of life forms.

I aim to bring picture book charm and natural science facts together which the reader can engage with, discover and explore through the large format of the books. Particularly important for me is to have the text running through the images (rather than separate) so that the reading experience itself is that of a journey.

To make the series factually robust I work with a real scientist/biologist/zoologist who’s credited in the books and makes sure everything we depict is anatomically and geographically correct!

Each of the books takes the best part of a year, being non-fiction and so many pages! But it’s a joyous process as I myself learn so much while working on each book and the best part is that I get to connect again with my inner child.

Yuval Zommer

Yuval Zommer graduated from London’s Royal College of Art with an MA in Illustration. He has worked as a creative director at many leading advertising agencies.

Yuval’s passion for picture books has now won, and he is the author/illustrator of many highly acclaimed children’s books. Yuval lives and works in an old house in Notting Hill where he overlooks a small garden which is visited by urban foxes, squirrels, birds and many insects, some of which later find their way into his stories. His other favourite places are The Natural History Museum and the Zoo.

Yuval has won the Heart of Hawick’s Children’s Book Award 2015 in the best new picture book category and his work has been nominated for the SLA Information Book Award 2017 and the 2018 CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal.

 

Thank you to Yuval for his interesting guest post and to Katrina and Thames and Hudson for sending me a copy of this glorious book. ‘The Big Book of Blue’ is available to buy now online or from any good bookshop.

It’s A Wrap – Perdita & Honor Cargill

It was with great anticipation and trepidation that I opened up my copy of ‘It’s A Wrap’, the final instalment in the ‘Waiting for Callback‘ series by Perdita and Honor Cargill. I have so much love for these wonderful books and I felt really emotional that it’s coming to an end, but would it have the ending that I desperately crave? Well I can confirm that it totally satisfied my desire, it is in fact sheer perfection. Smart, clever and oh so funny it is a total joy from start to finish, I just loved being back in Elektra’s world again.

Elektra seems to be finally gaining some control of her slightly chaotic life and with her role in the massive blockbuster film Raw, surely her dreams of becoming a successful actress are bound to come true. But we know life is never that easy for our hapless heroine Elektra.  When the promotion for Raw begins to build it becomes glaringly obvious that Elektra’s real life and personality isn’t quite what her PR team are looking for. Whilst they want her to post glamorous selfies the best she can muster is picture of badly carved pumpkin and her measly handful of followers is declared a total disaster. How is Elektra ever going to juggle studying for her GCSEs, maintaining a long distance relationship with the delectable Archie and having a glamorous social life when in fact she has no life at all outside of school. As the days countdown to the release of Raw her control on her life and chances of fame and Hollywood success seem to be slipping out of her grasp.

‘It’s A Wrap’ takes Elektra to a whole new brutal level of cringe worthy action, capturing superbly the pressure on teens growing up in a social media dominated world. Although Elektra is very much in the spotlight with the up and coming media release this story cleverly highlights once again the struggle of any awkward teen who doesn’t quite fit in with the shiny, glossy and ultimately fake world presented in social media. The #ElektraWozHere moment will literally make you want to hide behind the sofa or lock yourself away in your room as you feel her humiliation shine out of the pages. There are so many moments of pure comedy genius that will have you crying with laughter.  Perdita and Honor’s strength is that they are genuinely funny writers who provide a witty social commentary that is brilliantly entertaining and leaves you desperate for more. I’m so sad to see this series come to an end but they have ended it in a very fitting and honest way that feels just right for Elektra and I just adored it. So with tears in my eyes and a smile on my face, all that’s left for me to say is, It’s A Wrap!

Thank you to Simon & Schuster for sending me a copy of this superb book, ‘It’s A Wrap’ is released on May 31st and is available to pre-order online or from any good bookshop.

Alex Sparrow and the Furry Fury – Jennifer Killick

Alex and Jess are back in another brilliantly bonkers and slightly sinister adventure from Jennifer Killick in ‘Alex Sparrow and the Furry Fury.’ Still high on the adrenaline of their last mission Alex is determined to get involved in another case fit for a super agents like him and Jess but the only mystery on offer is the disappearance of the school guinea pigs. But fear not, it’s not long before strange and rather bonkers things begin to happen, much to Alex’s excitement. Ninja squirrels are on the rampage stealing people’s mobile phones, foxes are keeping the town awake at night howling like demons screaming from hell, oh and Colin, Alex’s neighbours cat has gone missing. Whilst Alex is determined to get to the bottom of these unexplained occurrences, Jess is more worried about Rex the new boy at school whose Mum runs the animal sanctuary. Together they volunteer to help at the sanctuary, where they discover that the animals are unnaturally terrified and realise something is very, very wrong.

Jennifer has exceeded herself with the follow up to ‘Alex Sparrow and the Really Big Stink,’ it’s a hilarious, bizarre adventure that just oozes humour and warmth. Alex and Jess despite being the complete opposites makes a formidable team with their winning combination of brains and bravery despite moments were they are genuinely terrified they refuse to give up. Jennifer has assembled a truly magnificent cast of characters, that you genuinely care about. I still love Bob, Alex’s goldfish. One of the finest comedy moments is the negotiation between Bob and Elle over the décor of their new goldfish bowl before they agree to move in together. It’s this attention to detail and clever, subtle humour playing perfectly in the background –  as the chaotic adventure unfolds – that makes this book a joy to read. I have to give a shout out to Mr Prickles who totally stole my heart and showed us a side to Alex that we’ve never seen before which is wonderfully endearing. A non-stop, action packed, laugh out loud adventure that will keep you turning the pages until you’ve devoured the whole story.

Thank you to Firefly Press for sending me a copy of this fabulous book, ‘Alex Sparrow and the Furry Fury’ is available to buy now online or from any good bookshop.

The House With Chicken Legs – Sophie Anderson

I am delighted to welcome Sophie Anderson to the blog with a special guest post as part of the blog tour for ‘The House With Chicken Legs.’ Stunningly told and superbly written this has to be one of the most accomplished debuts I have had the pleasure to read. A truly unforgettable story that will stay with me forever. Sophie has been sharing her favourite Russian Fairy Tales and what they mean to her and today we have the wonderful story of ‘The Crane and the Heron.’

The Crane and the Heron (on seizing the day)

Once upon a time a crane and a heron lived in a bog; they had little huts, one at each end of it …’

In this Russian fairy tale, collected and published by Alexander Afanasyev in 1855, crane grows weary of living alone and sets off to woo heron. But when he arrives and asks heron to be his wife, heron both rejects and insults him.

‘“No, crane, I will not be your wife; your legs are too long, your clothes are too short, your flying is poor, and you cannot support me. Go away, you spindleshanks!”’

And so, crane returns home upset. But later, heron changes her mind – deciding she would rather marry crane than live alone after all – and so she flies to crane and asks to be his wife.

However, crane, still upset, tells heron he doesn’t want her as a wife and demands she leaves. So, this time it is heron who flies home upset and ashamed.

Later still, crane changes his mind and flies back to heron, but she tells him to go. And then, heron changes her mind and flies back to crane, but he tells her to go.

“And to this very day they go to each other to propose, but never get married.”

When I first heard this story as a child I chuckled and thought how silly! Both heron and crane want the same thing, yet they stop themselves from getting it. They should just seize the day and marry!

But as I have grown older, and thought about this story more, I have come to understand and empathise with heron and crane more deeply.

From an omniscient reader’s point of view, it is easy to see heron and crane want the same thing, but this would not be obvious to heron or crane at all. Only half the time heron and crane’s words and actions reflect their desire to be together, so how can they ever be sure what the other truly wants?

If only heron and crane could communicate better …. but each time one rejects or insults the other, the upset it causes drives a wedge between them.

It can be quite an emotional experience to put yourself in heron or crane’s shoes. They are struggling with pride, rejection, hurt, shame, and loneliness. Is the togetherness they seek worth this struggle? And could they ever be truly happy together? At what point should they give up and maybe fly off to a new bog?

I still stand by my childhood conclusion that heron and crane might find happiness if they could somehow seize the day and marry. But now I understand that seizing the day is not always easy. It can involve overcoming seemingly mountainous emotions; such as fear, pride, rejection, worry, or hurt. But if we don’t learn to deal with these emotions effectively, we might end up like heron and crane …. flying back and forth over a bog forevermore, never getting what we truly want.

There is a lovely illustrated picture book of this tale, ‘The Heron and the Crane‘ written by John Yeoman and illustrated by Quentin Blake, published by Andersen.

 Thank you to Sophie for stopping by the blog to share what ‘The Crane and the Heron’ means to her today.

Sophie Anderson

Sophie Anderson grew up in Swansea, studied at Liverpool University, and has worked as a geologist, science teacher and text book author. Sophie was inspired to love stories by her Prussian grandmother who fled her homeland during WW2, losing her family in the process. She carried the stories, music and food of her home in her soul and brought them with her to Wales…and to her granddaughter Sophie. Growing up it was the tale of the chicken-legged house that captured Sophie’s imagination the most. She thought it would be incredible to live in a house that could take you to see new places or to visit the homelands of ancestors. Now living in the Lake District with her husband, Sophie enjoys the freedom of home schooling her three children, fell walking, canoeing, and daydreaming.

You can find out more about Sophie by visiting her website or follow her on her Twitter and Instagram pages.

Blog Tour

Why not join in with the rest of the blog tour to find out more about Sophie’s favourite Russian fairytales.

Thank you to Fritha and Usborne for inviting me to join in with the blog tour. ‘The House With Chicken Legs’ is released on May 3rd but you can buy online now or pre-order from any good bookshop.