Monthly Archives: September 2019

The Cloud Horse Chronicles: Guardians of Magic – Chris Riddell

There is nothing better than discovering that one of your favourite author/illustrators has a new series on the way. So I was thrilled to hear about Chris Riddell’s, latest creation ‘The Cloud Horse Chronicles.,’ an epic fantasy that will completely enchant and enthral you. In, ‘Guardians of Magic,’ we open with dark times in the land of Thrynne. A land where fairy tales refuse to behave as they should and where magic can be found in the most unexpected objects and places. The source of the land’s magic, the Forever Tree, is under threat from those who would seek to destroy its power, an enemy who is so dastardly they will stop at nothing to succeed in their quest. But unknown to them, three magical objects have been created and bestowed on three unsuspecting children, who will become the Guardians of Magic. They have no idea of the power they hold or the danger they must face to save Thrynne from this threat.

 Chris has created a truly original and intriguing world, with the most sublime world-building. A world of fairy-tales gone wrong, causing disharmony and threatening the very existence of the magic. He has assembled a truly magnificent cast of characters in Zam, Phoebe and Bathsheba who are thrust into the limelight rather unexpectedly and rise to the challenge of defending their land most brilliantly. Chris has an extraordinary talent for creating the most quirky and likeable characters – who can forget the marvellous Ottoline and Ada Goth – and these guardians are equally brilliant. I was completely entranced by the cloud horses whose ability to grant your true desire at your time in need, is wonderfully charming. I particularly love how Chris has captured their grace and beauty, while still showcasing their strength and bravery. Exquisitely produced with the most stunning illustrations this book is hugely covetable. Prepare yourself to journey on an  adventure that will delight and surprise you in equal measures. This story is an absolute joy from start to finish, a complete triumph.

Blog Tour

Why not join in with the rest of the blog tour to find out more?

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The Boy With the Butterfly Mind – Victoria Williamson

 

 

‘The Boy With the Butterfly Mind,’ is an emotional rollercoaster of a read, I can’t remember feeling so effected by a story in a really long time. Jamie and Elin worlds collide unexpectedly when their families are blended together. Abandoned by his Mum who can’t cope anymore with his ADHD, Jamie moves in with hid Dad and Elin’s family ruining her already fractured life. They are the complete opposite in every way but what they both don’t realise that inside they both desperately want the same thing, a return to normal family life. While Jamie is determined to make Elin like him, she is determined to get this monster out of her life whatever the cost. It’s really disconcerting to see their internal struggles as their family descends into chaos and misery. A wonderfully empathetic story which doesn’t give a rose tinted view of life, instead it allows the full scale breakdown to be clearly seen by the reader so they can truly understand the depths of despair that both characters face. Yet despite all this it still manages to be an uplifting story highlighting the importance of being brave even when others around you refuse to accept people for who they are. Heart-breaking and thoughtful in equal measures this is an honest portrayal of real life struggles that make life unbearable for many children.

To celebrate the release of ‘The Boy With the Butterfly Mind,’ I have a special guest post from Victoria about keeping the wonder alive in science and in writing.

Rediscovering the Wonder – Victoria Williamson

Some of my earliest memories involved setting things on fire.

Not in a scary, ‘call-the-fire-brigade’ arsonist way, I should hasten to add. It was all in the name of science. When I was four, my father showed me how to burn a hole in a leaf with a magnifying glass. I’ll never forget my amazement at seeing the sun focused down to such a tiny point its rays could set leaves alight. My father explained the dangers, of course, so I wasn’t about to go burning holes in the garden shed or setting forests on fire or anything, but it was my first important lesson in the power and magic of science.

Over the years there were many more lessons to come. I still remember spending afternoons making pictures with iron filings and magnets, and learning how to make butter by shaking a jar of milk until my arms were nearly falling off. Back then science seemed to be all about discovery and adventure, and I was eager to learn more.

In my late teens I studied Physics and Astronomy at university. I had romantic ideas of playing with particle accelerators and staring up at the stars all night, but what I got instead was lectures full of mathematical formulae and hours spent in darkened lab rooms working out the luminosity of light bulbs. I couldn’t understand why this knowledge seemed so divorced from my experience of science in the real world – what did the spin properties of quarks have to do with the science experiments I enjoyed as a child? What did calculating the internal pressures of stars in a lecture hall have to do with the wonder of the stars at night? This failure to join the dots on my part meant I was unable to grasp the big picture of how the mathematics behind the phenomena I observed could help me explain them. I began to think of science as something that was boring – a hard slog involving a large amount of calculation, and very little magic.

It wasn’t until I began work as a teacher, that I rediscovered the magic of science through the eyes of the children I taught. Going back to basics – the wonder of watching liquids with different densities form a rainbow, or the fun of playing with static electricity, reminded me why I’d wanted to learn the formulae behind how these phenomena worked in the first place. I didn’t forget to teach the physics and chemistry behind the experiments, but the children’s excitement at making liquids glow in the dark or watching baking soda volcanoes fizz over, made me realise just how important it was not to lose sight of the magic of science this time either.

Writing can be just like this. Often the reason authors start crafting stories is for the excitement of building new worlds and peopling them with characters drawn from our imaginations. But then we start to get bogged down by all of the technicalities of novel-writing – planning intricately-detailed plots and penning overly-flowery paragraphs to try to impress a high school English teacher years after leaving school. When we forget that writing, much like science, must have magic at its core, what we produce is an overly-formulaic story that’s boring for the reader to slog through.

Of course the mechanics are very important – without a coherent plot and well-defined characters a novel would just be a jumble of disconnected chapters that don’t hang together. However, if we lose touch with the reason why we want to write stories in the first place, then our writing loses its sparkle. In these days of SATS, HMIE inspections, and a billion boxes for teachers to tick, keeping the joy of stories alive in the classroom by not making reading or creative writing too prescriptive can be a challenge. But as long as teachers don’t lose touch with the magic behind those stories, giving children plenty of free writing and reading time unconnected to tests or worksheet-filling exercises, then children will start to connect the joy of world-building to the more disciplined art of story-crafting.

These days I’m enjoying balancing my day-dreaming with the technical side of writing. I may not have got the formulae just right yet, but it’s turning into the most exciting experiment I’ve ever done

Blog Tour

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

Thank you to Victoria and Kelpies for inviting me to join in with the blog tour and for sending me a gifted review copy. ‘The Boy With the Butterfly Mind,’ is available to buy online now and from any good bookshop.

Marvellous Middle Grade Mysteries

Regulars to the blog will know I’m a huge fan of mystery books. If I have a huge pile of books to review I will always be drawn to mysteries before any other genre and having tried writing them myself I admire anyone who can effortlessly weave clues seamlessly throughout the plot and keep the reader guessing. Today I will be sharing some brilliant books all very different but what they have in common are intriguing protagonists, tightly knitted plots and above all a highly entertaining and engaging story.

Agatha Oddly: The Secret Key/Murder at the Museum – Lena Jones

The ‘Agatha Oddly,’ series was brought to my attention by my ten year old daughter who insisted that I would definitely love it and had to read it. And of course, as always she was right. Agatha Oddlow is the kind of character I just adore, wonderfully quirky, downright fierce and a lot foolhardy. Named after Agatha Christie, Agatha has detecting in her blood and has been waiting for her first big case for as long as she can remember. In ‘The Secret Key,’ her first case, Agatha doesn’t expect that her investigations on the attack of an elderly lady will lead her to discover a hidden world of secrets beneath London. Leading to her to discovering a most surprising revelation about her mother, questioning everything she has been told about her death. ‘Murder at the Museum,’ is equally thrilling with it’s dramatic and dangerous storyline that will keep readers on the edge of their seats. Slick, fast paced and delightfully perilous this series is a sure fire hit with the most interesting super-sleuth I have come across in a long while. They’ve already proved to be incredibly popular at school.

Lori and Max – Catherine O’ Flynn

‘Lori and Max’ manages to pack in a whole lot of drama and tension in 182 pages, which is really remarkable. I have a lot of children who love a good mystery but are intimidated by books with hundreds of pages so I was really intrigued to see if this could deliver an equally compelling story and it really did. Lori and Max forge an unlikely friendship, they both have complicated lives and stand out for being different. Lori is an orphan who lives with her wonderfully eccentric gran, while Max is struggling as her Mum battles depression and her Dad’s gambling habit leaves them in desperate circumstances. Lori wants nothing more than to be a detective and when Max and a whole heap of money goes missing, she’s convinced that Max is innocent and is determined to clear her name. For me this stands out for showing the power that true friendship has in the most difficult of times. Lori refuses to accept how everyone sees Max even risking herself to save her. I think it’s really important for children who have difficult lives to see themselves in a book where actually that’s not the main theme. By having this in the background for me it has more impact on the reader. I’m really hoping that there is more to come from Lori and Max.

Trouble in New York – Sylvia Bishop, illustrated by Marco Guadalupi

Set in the1960s, a time when everything was changing and everything seemed possible ‘Trouble in New York,’ is a really original mystery. Jamie has always wanted to be a reporter, desperate to win the coveted Young Reporter of the Year award. A chance encounter puts him in the path of Harry Hooper the editor of the New Yorker, who impressed with Jamie’s enthusiasm invites him to visit the newspaper. When Jamie is asked for a favour, he unwittingly finds himself caught up in a world of treachery and danger, when he encounters New York’s most infamous villains. Can he uncover who is responsible for all of these terrible crimes. Sylvia has assembled a cast of characters, I particularly loved Eve who refuses to be the perfect, pristine daughter her Mum desires. With twists and turns at every corner, we are cleverly drawn down paths only to discover that what we thought was true is false and those who we think we can trust are not to be trusted. A clever and slick mystery, wonderfully atmospheric and downright entertaining.

Clifftoppers: The Fire Bay Adventure – Fleur Hitchcock

Fleur Hitchcock is better known for being the writer of dark crime stories for older readers but luckily for us she has turned her talents and created the ‘Clifftoppers,’ series. When Aiden, Chloe, Ava and Josh go on holiday to their grandparent’s cottage they experience a world of wild beaches and no curfews, which inevitably leads them to getting mixed up in all sorts of adventures. The second book in this series ‘The Fire Bay Adventure,’ promises a mystery packed with secret smuggler tunnels, suspicious fires breaking out and of course dastardly adults who are clearly up to no good. It’s a real rollicking adventure that I devoured in one sitting, such a satisfying and engaging mystery. Perfectly primed for younger readers not quite ready for full blown middle grade mysteries but containing just enough danger and peril to keep them gripped, this is a fab series.

Thanks to Firefly, Nosy Crow, Scholastic and Tibor Jones for sending me gifted copies of these books in exchange for an honest review. All of these books are available to buy now online (click on link in title) or from any good bookshop.

 

 

 

Mythologica – Dr. Steve Kershaw, illustrated by Victoria Topping

Before I start this review I have a small confession to make…..at school I had a slight obsession with Classical Studies and I was the only one of my year group to opt to study Latin at G.C.S.E. But I’m acutely aware that my fondness for myths and monsters might not be replicated throughout my school which is unfortunate as it is a topic that all children at my school will experience. I would much rather we could inspire them rather than make them feel they had to endure this study but how can we excite them when there is a plethora of resources which err towards the classical rather than the dramatic. Fear not, I feel I may have found an answer in the fabulous, ‘Mythologica,’ written by esteemed expert Dr Steve Kershaw and illustrated in the most mind-blowing and engaging way I have seen in a long time by Victoria Topping.

Traditionalists may start to worry that this may potentially dilute the topic but I can assure you that’s not the case. Inside this sublime and stunning book the reader can delve into the lives of powerful gods and goddess and discover fascinating facts of mortals and monsters. Featuring the most exciting characters in Greek mythology,  each sumptuous spread mixes exquisite illustrations with a plethora of information about the subject interspersed with tales and historical events. This book is exquisitely produced in a luxurious over sized format making it a highly covetable purchase for fans of Greek myths. By the very nature of it’s look and content it is bound to become a much loved resource at school. We are already planning to use it, to recognising the transformative effect a brilliant book can have in enthusing the children and encouraging them to engage with their learning. A true classic which thoroughly deserves to be in every school library, I can’t recommend this book enough!

Thank you to Fritha and Wide Eyed books for sending me a gifted copy in exchange for an honest review. ‘Mythologica,’ is available to buy now online or from any good bookshop.

Marvellous Middle Grade Reads

August has been a quiet month for reading, I’ve been busy working away on a new story which has completely consumed my brain. As promised I do have a selection of books that managed to lure me away from the laptop and transport me to a different place, allowing some relaxation in my really manic schedule. All of these middle grade books stood out in my increasingly large review pile, each offering something slightly different but ultimately sharing the same brilliant storytelling at their heart.

The Girl With Space in Her Heart – Lara Williamson

I’ve never read a Lara Williamson’s story that I haven’t completely fallen head over heels in love with and, ‘The Girl With Space in Her Heart,’ is no exception. Lara has created another moving and beautiful story featuring a child whose life is somewhat complicated. Mabel desperately wants to learn to trust again and fill the space in her heart that her Dad left when he walked out. Her Mum’s new boyfriend, Galactic Gavin could the one to heal their broken family but Mabel’s big sister Topaz refuses to be won over by his kindness and is determined to be suspicious of everything he does for them. Mabel is in a quandary, should they risk getting hurt again because love always carries risk or should they refuse to let him into their lives and destroy their Mum’s chance of happiness? Stories like this one are so important for children to read, they need to see characters whose lives are far from straightforward as it offers them hope when life can feel hopeless. The characterisation is flawless, Lara creates characters who you genuinely come to love even spiky ones like Terrible Topaz. She deftly mixes humour and heart in this thoughtful and poignant tale of love, loss and uncertainty. Once again I’m in awe of Lara’s ability to craft the most sensitively written stories.

 

The Weird Friends Fan Club – Catherine Wilkins

Catherine Wilkins is adept and getting into the hearts and minds of teens. Her latest book, ‘The Weird Fans Club,’ gives us a humorous insight into the crazy world that they are trying to navigate. A world where social media and being popular seem to be the only thing that matters. Validation is through likes and not real friendship, so it’s no wonder that being different can be a complete disaster to your social standing. Erin and Grace are equally horrified when a teacher decides that their love of Charlotte Bronte makes them perfect writing partners for a new projects. Erin stands out for all the wrong reasons, especially her monobrow, while Grace is the queen of popularity rocking the world of social media with her carefully constructed selfies. They could be any more opposite but being thrown together could change them both in the most unexpected of ways! Fabulously funny and thoughtfully witty in equal measures this story is a real gem. I particularly like the diary style format making it really accessible and allowing the reader to feel like we’re getting a sneak peek into the girl’s true thoughts, the ones we sometimes have to hide from those around us. The rollercoaster of emotions that the girls experience capture brilliantly the savage ups and downs of teenage life, where people’s perceptions of you can be changed in an instant. A plethora of comic moments mixed with genuine teen angst make for a hilarious and compelling read.

 

The Switching Hour – Damaris Young

I’m going to start this review with a warning. If like me you’re of a sensitive nature don’t read this book at night, it will seriously chill your bones. Damaris has created a compelling edge of your seat adventure, that will have you checking your doors are locked before you go to bed. In ‘The Switching Hour,’ a strange creature has been awoken by the drought, Badoko. Every night Amaya and her grandmother must make sure their door is locked, so the Badoko can’t  steal her brother away to devour their dreams. But one night left all alone, Amaya forgets. Forced to journey into a terrifying forest, she discovers people devastated by The Sorrow Sickness. The drought has wreaked havoc on everyone and all appeals lost.  Torn between her desperate desire to find her missing brother, while trying to seek refuge and hide from Badoko, Amaya is forced to face her fears. At the heart of this story is a celebrations of the bonds of family,  the joy of unexpected friendship and the difficulty of dealing with loss. A strong environmental message runs throughout, as we seen Badoko is the all encompassing threat of the drought which threatens to destroy their whole community. This allows the reader to think about the devastating impact of climate change as dramatic and terrifying events are becoming more common. I was totally consumed by the threat of this creature, it’s a seriously spooky read. Damaris has created a bold and thrilling debut which will hold you in its icy grip to the very last page.

 

A Pocketful of Stars – Aisha Bushby

Aisha Bushby’s debut is a bittersweet tale examining  a fractured family and a complicated relationship between a mother and a daughter. Safiya struggles to get along with her mum, finding herself clashing and feeling frustrated by their inability to co-exist. At school there is no respite, she doesn’t fit in and her love of gaming makes her the target for unkindness. But when tragedy strikes and her mum falls into a coma after a terrible accident, Safiya finds herself in a strange world where she starts to see a different side of her mother. Battling to unlock the secrets of this world alongside her day to day life, she feels that her Mum’s recovery is inextricably bound by her ability to comprehend this new world. With time running out can Safiya find a way to makes sense of the past. Aisha manages to tackle difficult and complex themes of divorce, bullying and dealing with grief, in a sensitive and thoughtful way. The gaming element of the story surprised me as it was totally unexpected and added an original element to this intriguing debut. A tough and emotional read, that will leave the reader filled with hope despite the highs and lows of this compelling tale.

 

 

Thank you to Egmont, Nosy Crow and Scholastic for sending me gifted copies of these books in exchange for an honest review. All of these books are available to buy now online (click on the title) or from any good bookshop.

Gangster School: Gruffles and the Killer Sheep – Kate Wiseman

If you’ve got that back to school feeling and the school holidays feel like a distant memory, then you need something to snap you out of our your doldrums, something that will thoroughly entertain you. Luckily for you I have the perfect choice, the latest book in the Gangster School series has just been released ‘Gruffles and the Killer Sheep.’ If you think your school problems are bad, wait to see what Milly and Charlie have to face when they are sent to represent their school at Crimicon, the place to be seen for promising young criminals. Not only is it being held at their arch enemies school, Crumleys but Charlie’s dog Gruffles has secretly tagged along promising to cause chaos and carnage. With traps and problems awaiting them at every turn can they find a way to save their school’s reputation and save poor Gruffles from the clutches of the Killer Sheep?

If you’re new to this series you may not realise that there are in fact top-secret schools for criminals right under our very noses in the most unexpected of places. This funny and original concept still amuses me, what other school would bad behaviour go unpunished and instead be encouraged and greatly rewarded. You know from the moment team Blaggards step foot into the grounds of Crumley’s and are nearly thrown into the moat that this isn’t going to be an easy ride. Following on from the first two books in the series you know that you must at all times expect the unexpected, prepare to be bamboozled by the many twists and turns the plot takes as it shakes you up and down like a possessed mini-bus. There are so many questions that are unanswered and so many weird things happening that Milly and Charlie must uncover. Slick, fast-paced and filled with mayhem and mirth, this continues to be a really compelling series which children are bound to find entertaining.

Blog Tour

Why not catch up on the rest of the blog tour to find out more.

Thank you to Emily and Zuntold for inviting me to join in with the blog tour and for sending me a gifted copy of the book. ‘Gangster School: Gruffles and the Killer Sheep,’ is available to buy now online.

Brilliant Barrington Stoke Reads

As a school librarian I’m often asked for help from parents for reluctant and struggling  readers. When this happens my first port of call is always books by the publisher Barrington Stoke. Not only do they publish books by some of the most popular and brilliant authors and illustrators but they have lots of extra features that make them super readable. They are specifically designed to help support children who may struggle to develop good literacy skills for a variety of different reasons such as dyslexia or simple reluctance to want to read. Their accessible layouts, spacing and paper make for an easier reading experience and are expertly edited to ensure unnecessary words don’t hinder comprehension while the text will still challenge the reader. These books have been incredibly popular with all the children at school not just our reluctant readers with books from the Little Gems collection featuring weekly in our storytime sessions. Books are available for all age groups and today I am sharing with you some highlights from Barrington Stoke that I have really enjoyed reading this year.

Special Delivery – Jonathan Meres, Illustrated by Hannah Coulson

I shared ‘Special Delivery,’ last term at school with my year 3 classes at their weekly library sessions and it managed to entertain the children and create an opportunity to explore our thoughts and experiences with dementia. Frank is desperate for a bike and his Mum (as Mums do) reminds him that money doesn’t grow on trees, it’s not his birthday, it’s definitely not Christmas so he will need to save up for his own bike. Enrolled by his sister to help with her paper round to earn some money, they come across an old lady who loves everything to do with cowboys. One day they find their new friend lost and confused, she’s forgotten where she lives and is looking for her sister. Realising she needs help Frank steps in to help a hand. . At first the children found the old lady’s confusion funny but then they soon realised that something else was happening and it allowed us to gently explore what can be a difficult subject to share with younger children. Jonathan has created a truly special story highlighting how kindness and thoughtfulness can make a difference to those who are struggling, Hannah’s vibrant and appealing  illustrations capture the heart of this story perfectly.

Sophie Takes to the Sky – Katherine Woodfine, illustrated by Briony May Smith

Katherine Woodfine is back with another Little Gems book celebrating the life of another female pioneer, in this imagined telling of the early life of Sophie Blanchard, the world’s first female hot-air balloonist. Sophie is scared of absolutely everything, mice, spider, thunderstorms, the dark and is named, ‘Scaredy-Cat Sophie,’ by her friends and family.  When a balloonist comes to the town fair Sophie is inevitably left behind leaving her longing to be there but too afraid to face her fears. But her overwhelming desire to see the hot-air balloon forces her to be brave for the first time in her life and she soon discovers that things are not always as awful as they first seem. This inspiring and charming tale completely delighted me, it is filled with gentle humour and is wonderfully empowering, encouraging children to find their inner courage. Briony May Smith’s exquisite illustrations make this lovely story even more covetable capturing the change in Sophie’s persona magnificently. Another absolute gem in this wonderful collection, which I envisage being thoroughly enjoyed at school.

Owen and the Soldier – Lisa Thompson, illustrated by Mike Lowery

I was thrilled to discover that Lisa Thompson had written a novella for Barrington Stokes older collection, for me she is an extraordinary writer who manages to deal with the most complex themes in a empathetic and sensitive way. In ‘Owen and the Soldier,’ it becomes immediately clear that Owen and his mum are really struggling. Owen feels like he has no one to talk to and nowhere to go. Drawn to the peace of the memorial garden Owen starts to confide in a crumbling stone statue. For once he has someone who can listen without judging him. But his sanctuary is about to be shattered when the town council decide to remove the soldier, can Owen find a way to speak up when he is drowning in his own personal battle. I was completely overcome by how much emotion Lisa packed into this small but perfectly formed book, dealing once again sensitively and thoughtfully with difficult issues. I found myself in tears and completely moved by Owen’s story. Mike’s illustrations give this story a gently lift allowing the reader to feel hope when life is desperately sad for Owen. I think this story needs to be in every school library, encouraging the reader to reflect on the past and having empathy for those who face dark times and are in need of our help.

The Starlight Watchmaker – Lauren James

Lauren James is an essential part of my most loved shelves. Her ability to create stories that are truly incredible never ceases to amaze me and ‘The Starlight Watchmaker,’ is her first book for Barrington Stokes teen reads collection. Featuring all of Lauren’s trademark brilliance, conjuring up worlds that go beyond the realms of our imagination and challenging everything we think is possible this is a true joy to behold. Hugo, an abandoned android, world collides with wealthy and privileged Dorian when he demands he fixes his broken time-travel watch. But they soon discover that something sinister is afoot that could jeopardise their entire planet, can they find a way to use their differences to overcome this threat? This extraordinary tale combines futuristic storytelling with an exploration of how we treat different members of our society and highlights how easy it is for divisions to occur. Fast-paced, frenetic and once again featuring Lauren’s amazing ability to surprise the reader, this is another superb story. I was totally dazzled by Lauren’s incredible imagination and her ability to deliver a compelling read in such a short story.

Thank you to Barrington Stoke for sending me gifted copies of all of these books in exchange for an honest review. You can buy them now online (click on the title) or from any good bookshop. ‘Sophie Takes to the Sky,’ is released on the 15th September and is available to pre-order.