Monthly Archives: April 2020

The Super Miraculous Journey of Freddie Yates by Jenny Pearson, illustrated by Rob Biddulph

I was thrilled to host the cover reveal for Jenny Pearson’s debut earlier this year and I am delighted to be sharing my review with you on the blog today. This is genuinely one of the funniest debuts I’ve read in a very long time, the pages whizzed by I went on a remarkable journey with Freddie, Ben and Charlie. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, first of all you need to understand what three young boys are doing setting off a seemingly impossible mission with only some spare underpants for company. Freddie wasn’t exactly looking forward to the summer holidays but the unexpected death of his beloved Grams and a surprising revelation convinces him he needs to make a journey. He has to find his real dad, the one he’s never met and his friends are determined he’s not sneaking off alone. Unfortunately their super-sneaky journey is not going to plan and they leave chaos and confusion wherever they go. Will Freddie ever find what he’s desperately searching for?

This book is packed with so much humour and so much heart, it really is the perfect balance of storytelling. There are so many moments of pure comedy gold which Rob Biddulph captures brilliantly in his hilarious illustrations. Jenny has a real knack for getting into the hearts and minds of children and the story has a pure childlike quality to it that I really loved. Freddie, Charlie and Ben all have their own battles to fight and insecurities to face, so despite this being an absolute joy to read, it is also has elements that are poignant and heartfelt. I couldn’t possibly choose a favourite scene but I do have a real fondness for the hero of the hour, Sheila, whose intelligence and impeccable timing really saves the day. A real treat of a book that I recommend for everyone from 8 – 100. Guaranteed to put a smile on your face and leave you with a warm glow.

 

To celebrate the release of this hilarious book, I have a special guest post from Jenny on her favourite miracles…

My Favourite Miracles – Jenny Pearson

In The Super Miraculous Journey of Freddie Yates, Freddie and his mates, Ben and Charlie set off an adventure across Wales. Fact-loving Freddie doesn’t really believe in miracles, but during his journey he and his friends set off a chain of events that make people believe a miracle really has happened. Freddie thinks he knows the truth – that miracles don’t really happen but then, in St David’s the most westernest part of Wales, Freddie experiences a miracle of his own and he learns that things might not always be fact or fiction.

I wanted to share with you two of my favourite miracles that have been reported from around the world. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether or not you think they really happened.

Way back in 1630 AD, there was a guy called Joseph of Cupertino. I think Cupertino must have been the place he lived in Italy. He must have had another surname – surely not everybody who lived there could be called ‘of Cupertino’ – could get quite confusing. Anyway, this Joseph was a friar who could, apparently, spring into spontaneous levitation. That basically means he could hover in the air. Which is pretty cool. Apparently, he first did this during a procession in honour of Saint Francis of Assisi. Which isn’t very cool. A bit showy-offy if you ask me – hovering up there above the crowd. The day wasn’t about you – Joseph of Cupertino, it was about Saint Francis. But Joseph wasn’t bothered about outshining the patron saint of animals, and after that you couldn’t stop the fella from floating about in the air. He even spent a bit of air-time in front of the Pope who was dead impressed. Everybody thought that Joseph’s ability to levitate was a genuine miracle and after he died, he was made the Saint of pilots and astronauts. It must have been quite a while after he died though, because I can’t imagine there were too many astronauts mooching about in Italy in the seventeenth century.

The next miracle I want to tell you about, happened in Akita in Japan and was actually an inspiration for what happens after Freddie, Ben and Charlie spend a night in the church in The Super Miraculous Journey of Freddie Yates. If you read it, you’ll understand why!

So, in July 1973, Sister Agnes, who was praying in chapel, heard a voice coming from a wooden statue of the Virgin Mary. As a rule, statues don’t generally speak, so this was a bit of a surprise for Agnes. But that’s not all! She noticed there were drops of blood flowing from the statue’s right hand! Agnes went and got some of her sister pals to have a look – probably to check she wasn’t having a funny five minutes – but they could see it too! That statue’s hand kept dripping with blood all the way until September. After it had stopped, the statue started to ‘sweat’ especially around the forehead and the neck! And THEN two years later, in 1975, the statue began to weep! Over the next eight years the statue was found crying on 101 different occasions. The statue was analysed by a university professor and he confirmed that the blood tears and sweat to be human! Oh. My. Days!

According to Wikipedia a miracle is an extraordinary and welcome event which cannot be explained by natural or scientific laws. But like Freddie Yates, it’s up to you to decide whether you believe in miracles. And to be honest, I think it’s okay to make up your own definition of what a miracle is. I don’t think I really believed in miracles before I had two of my own – my boys, William and Douglas. Oh, and that time the swimming pool vending machine malfunctioned, and I got sixteen Boost bars for the price of one. That felt quite miraculous.

 Thanks to Jenny for this interesting and humorous post.

Blog Tour

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

Thanks to Fritha and Usborne for inviting me to join in with blog tour and for sending me a gifted proof copy. ‘The Super Miraculous Journey of Freddie Yates,’ is available to buy now online or from your local bookshop.

 

 

 

The Strangeworlds Travel Agency – L.D. Lapinski

Today on the blog I am delighted to share with you one of the stand out middle grade debuts of the year, ‘The Strangeworlds Travel Agency,’ by L.D. Lapinski. I was totally slayed by the very first line, which talks of places in the world where magic gathers, from this first moment I was completely swept away by this truly incredible adventure. When Flick stumbles upon the Strangeworlds Travel Agency and the mysterious owner Jonathan, she discovers something truly extraordinary. Hidden within the many suitcases inside, are fantastical worlds waiting to be discovered.  But Flick soon realises everything is not as it seems, dangers are lurking in these worlds which threatens the very fabric of the multiverse. She must find a way to fix the catastrophic problem of the worlds collapsing and destroying ours in the process.

I was totally captivated by this original and thrilling tale. The world-building is just remarkable with each suitcase containing a new land with carefully imagined details and rules. You can see the amount of imagination and thoughtfulness that has gone into every creation, it is truly incredible. Flick and Jonathan are the most sublime characters each struggling to find their places within their worlds whilst also battling this danger that threatens their very existence. You can see why they’re drawn together both having responsibilities to bear beyond their years, Flick having her younger brother to care for, while Jonathan has the weight of being the guardian of this secret society. This is a marvellous adventure packed with thrills and spills that is bound to entertain readers looking for something a little bit different that will transport them to new and exciting worlds. Sublime characterisation meets epic world-building in this shining debut from L.D. Lapinski. I can’t wait for the next Strangeworlds adventure.

The Strangeworlds Travel Agency – L.D. Lapinski

I get asked a lot where ideas come from, and honestly, I wish I knew. I hoard ideas, I always have. Not all of them are great. A lot of downright odd, but I hang onto them anyway, just in case. If the best ideas are butterflies, most of mine are squashed-looking caterpillars that haven’t any hopes of even reaching the chrysalis stage without a lot of help. And that’s fine! Some ideas just wriggle around for years without going anywhere.

Some, on the other hand, burst into being so quickly that you find yourself trying to chase after them before they escape altogether. And that is what The Strangeworlds Travel Agency was like.

When Strangeworlds arrived in my head, I’d just finished the first draft of a (now abandoned!) YA novel. I wasn’t very happy with it, and had been trying to think for a while about how to fix some of its problems. I wasn’t thinking about a new book, and definitely not about anything middle-grade!

I was washing my hair when The Strangeworlds Travel Agency crashed into my head. I knew, as fast as clicking my fingers, what the travel agency looked like, what the magical suitcases were and how they worked, and how they were made. I knew what about the place was secret, and I know what would be known by lots of characters. I’ve definitely had more dignity than I did that day, throwing myself out of the bathroom in a panic to get to the laptop before the idea flew out of reach forever. I don’t even think I was completely dry when I started typing, and I wrote the first ten thousand words of the first book that day.

Looking back, the ‘idea’ for Strangeworlds is really just the result of being a child of books. I’ve always loved middle-grade and fantasy books, portal fantasy especially. I adore books with secret societies in them, and with imperfect characters who get on one another’s nerves. I’d written stories where characters go to other worlds before, but the concept of using suitcases to get there was something I’ll never be able to completely explain. I can only look back thankfully that I was privileged and fortunate enough to be surrounded by books from the day I was born, and that I’ve had the space and freedom to have time just to allow ideas to develop, even if they’ve taken years to get there!

The Strangeworlds Travel agency is the result of a lifetime being in love with stories, and I desperately hope that it will become part of another child’s lifetime of reading and falling in love with stories. And that it brings them an escape, now more than ever.

 

Thank you to L.D. Lapinski for this really interesting guest post, I’m always intrigued to discover where writers get their ideas from.

Blog Tour

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

Thank you to Dom and Hachette for inviting me to join in with the blog tour and for sending me a gifted copy of this fabulous adventure. ‘The Strangeworlds Travel Agency,’ is available to buy online now or from any good bookshop.

The Vanishing Trick by Jenni Spangler, illustrated by Chris Mould

Today I am delighted to share with you an exquisitely dark and eerie debut from Jenni Spangler, ‘The Vanishing Trick,’ stunningly illustrated by Chris Mould. When Leander is tricked – by the beguiling Madame Pinchbeck – into handing over his most prized possession little does he realise he’s about to be drawn into a unfortunate and twisted adventure. He soon discovers he isn’t the only child to be fooled by her kindness when Charlotte and Felix mysteriously appear out on thin air. In a world where reality is far from normal, they must find a way to outwit the sinister Madame Pinchbeck before it’s too late…

When I picked up this book to read, I fully intended just to read a few chapters. Instead I was drawn into this original and dark drama and devoured it in one afternoon. Cleverly told from the perspectives of the three children, Jenni takes us into the very heart of their feelings where we discover their innermost secrets and vulnerabilities. Madame Pinchbeck has preyed on these children who have lost all hope using their lack of family bonds to manipulate and control them. Despite their obvious dislike of her they still seek her approval and are blinded by the small crumbs of kindness she throws at them. Felix is especially fixated by her, he wants to help the others escape but feels an extraordinary loyalty to this terrible woman.

Not only has Jenni created the most compelling characters, she has surrounded them with a world filled with the most believable magic. Nothing seems fantastical about Madame Pinchbeck’s malevolent power which she uses to trap and summon the children on a whim. The lack of control is terrifying for them, living in a constant state of not knowing what will happen next and fearing the consequences if they displease her. The setting is just glorious. By choosing the Victorian era she plays on their superstitions around ghosts and medics making the story feel even more real for the reader. Having Chris Mould as the illustrator is an inspired choice, he captures the eerie and sinister nature of this book brilliantly. A truly original and captivating story which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Blog Tour

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

Thank you to Olivia and Simon and Schuster for sending me a gifted copy of this book and inviting me to join in with the blog tour. ‘The Vanishing Trick,” is released on April 30th and is available to pre-order online or from you local bookshop.

Oh No, Bobo! by Donna David, illustrated by Laura Watkins

Today I am delighted to share with you Donna David’s picture book debut, ‘Oh No, Bobo,’ illustrated by Laura Watkins. Bobo the Orangutan is on the hunt for a perfect pillow so he can have a good night’s sleep. He is sure his friends won’t mind helping him in his quest, so he helps himself to the odd feather and a tuft of hair without asking. Despite his friends saying no,  Bobo is confused when they are cross. But when he meets Elsie an enthusiastic elephant who decides he would make the perfect pillow, he realises first hand how it feels when someone doesn’t listen. Donna has created a gentle but powerful story that explores the theme of consent, this is a must have for any school and library. We can clearly see how the animals feel when Bobo refuses to listen and invades their space, taking their things without their permission. Stunningly illustrated in a vibrant palette by Laura, the illustrations have the perfect balance of humour and thoughtfulness which brilliantly convey this important message to children.

To celebrate the release of this book, I have a special guest post from the author Donna David on her writing process.

My Writing Process – Donna David

If I had to describe my writing process in two words, they’d probably be ‘Not Ideal’!

Like lots of people, I get up in the morning and get the children off to school. Some days I head off to work as a Library Assistant at a local prison and very little writing gets done on those days. If I’m not working, then I try to get out for a run where I might ponder a new story idea or a plot problem. Then again, I might stick my headphones in and listen to a completely non-writing related podcast.

When I get home, I have my breakfast, do a few odd jobs and sit down at my computer for a full day of writing. Except it’s now midday. How did that happen?

Before I start writing, I make it my mission to read the WHOLE of the internet: Emails, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, BBC News. Then I break for lunch.

Word count so far: zero

Finally, by about 1.30pm, I’ll start writing. This gives me a full 90 minutes before I need to pick my son from school so I have to make it count!

It makes you wonder how I ever got a publishing deal, doesn’t it?

Luckily, I mostly write picture books so creative time doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be sat at desk. I spend a lot of time in the car thinking about my writing. I might be mulling over feedback from my awesome agent or from my excellent critique group.Sometimes, I might not be thinking of writing at all and some inspiration might pop into my head. It could be something I hear on the radio or see on one of my runs. It could be something a child says to me or a slogan I see on a T-shirt. Inspiration is everywhere. And if I feel like I don’t have any ideas, I ask a friend to give me a random word and I write a story about it. Some (many) of the stories I write like this are spectacularly bad, but they get the creative juices flowing and someone wiser than me once said that no written word is ever wasted.

‘Oh No, Bobo!’ was inspired by the monumental #metoo movement. I was desperate to write a story about consent but I wanted to get it right. I wanted my text to be a learning tool but also a fun and vibrant story and that’s a tricky balance to strike! As a result, the story went through many forms over many, many months.

With wonderful illustrations by the ridiculously talented Laura Watkins, I couldn’t be happier with how ‘Oh No, Bobo!’ has turned out. I’m so happy that he’s swinging his way into the world as my debut picture book!

 

Thanks to Donna for this really insightful guest post. I like to indulge myself in a fair bit of daily procrastination until I actually get any words written, so I’m glad that’s not just me who gets easily distracted.

Blog Tour

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

Thank you to Donna and Quarto for inviting me to join in with the blog tour. ‘Oh No, Bobo!’ is available to buy online now or try ordering from your local independent bookshop.

 

Cover Reveal – The Key to Finding Jack Ewa Jozefkowicz

Today is National Sibling’s Day which is the perfect day to reveal the cover of the latest Ewa Jozefkowicz book, ‘The Key to Finding Jack.’ A beautiful story about the power of the bond between siblings, which is released in September 2020 by Zephyr Books.

So without further ado here it is…

This stunning cover filled with the most intricate and marvellous details is illustrated by Katy Riddell with cover design by Matt Bray. I love how it captures perfectly the adventure that lies ahead for Flick as she embarks on this remarkable journey to find her brother.

Let’s find out more about this story…

The Key to Finding Jack – Ewa Jozefkowicz

Flick’s big brother, Jack, goes missing in Peru and she is desperate to find him. But can she solve the greatest mystery of all: who Jack really is? Twelve-year-old Flick adores Jack and loves solving puzzles with him. But Jack is soon to head off far away for his gap year and Flick knows she will miss him terribly. Dad wants Jack to take his future more seriously, but Flick doesn’t want her prankster brother ever to change. Tragedy strikes when an earthquake devastates the region of Peru where Jack is  travelling and no one can make contact with him. Flick and her family are thrown into the horrible unknown. Flick is bewildered to discover Jack has left behind his treasured fine gold chain with a small key attached. Even more bewildering is the note tucked beside the chain: For S.F to keep until I’m back. Flick clings to the hope that S.F (whoever that is) might hold the clue to finding her brother. When she sets out to uncover the identity of its owner, she meets new friends, rekindles a  special  relationship  and  discovers  a whole  new  side  to Jack. Intriguing  clues  from  a legend about the Inca gold, to a key with magical powers help her along the way. Featuring a story within a story, The Key to Finding Jack is a beautifully imagined and moving story about sacrifice and courage, the riches of family and friendship, and the power of living life to the full.

I’m so looking forward to reading this book it sounds hugely intriguing.

Thanks to Fritha and Zephyr books for inviting me to host the cover reveal. ‘The Key to Finding Jack,’ is released in September 2020 and is available to pre-order online or from any good bookshop.

TrooFriend – Kirsty Applebaum

Today it’s my stop on the blog tour for Kirsty Applebaum’s incredible new book, ‘TrooFriend.’ When Sarah is given the latest life-like android instead of the puppy she wants she is furious with her parents and is determined not to interact with, ‘Ivy.’ Ivy should be the perfect friend, she won’t lie, harm or bully Sarah. But there are rumours spreading that this model is dysfunctional, some even claim they are developing feelings or that they’re dangerous. And when Ivy is threatened, what lengths will Sarah go to protect her one true friend?  In a world that is striving to make devices smarter and develop Artificial Technology, this reminds us that just because we have the capability to do something it doesn’t mean we should necessarily do it. Kirsty has brilliantly captured the voice of Ivy, we really feel for her as she begins to experience true life emotions going against everything she has been developed to be. For the reader to feel empathy for an artificial being is an truly remarkable feat and Kirsty should be lauded for conjuring this emotion in the reader. A tale of unexpected friendship and learning to be true to yourself, this is a thoughtful and compelling story that will have you gripped to the very last page.

How TrooFriend Came To Be – Kirsty Applebaum

It feels almost as if TrooFriend appeared from nowhere. The idea came very suddenly in a writing workshop. We’d been listening to each other’s childhood stories, identifying key emotions and conflicts involved, then using them to build a new story. My friend Di described how she’d once taken a pencil from a friend and felt terribly guilty about it, although she could never quite remember whether she’d taken it deliberately or not. I decided to transform her into an artificially intelligent robot (sorry Di!) and began to write. For the rest of the day I couldn’t stop thinking about it. When I told my husband about the idea he said, ‘You have to write that!’

But I had a problem. My publisher was expecting delivery of another book – one that I was finding incredibly difficult to complete. I secretly started on TrooFriend. It poured from my fingers. Every time I finished a section my husband would read it and hassle me for more. After a week of this moonlighting I called my agent, Nancy Miles, and confessed. Lovely, wise Nancy said if this book was flowing I should just let it happen, so I went full steam ahead. I wrote in every spare moment – and in 32 days I had my first draft.

Happily, both Nancy and my brilliant editor, Kirsty Stansfield, loved it. After a short editing period, Nosy Crow decided to publish it as my second book.

So, did TrooFriend appear from nowhere? Well, looking back, I think I was always going to write this book. I was seven when Star Wars came out and thirteen when I read Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot. I studied Frankenstein, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and The Iron Man. I watched Terminator and listened to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I think all these stories (and more) have been brewing away in my subconscious for decades and it all tumbled out in the form of TrooFriend.

But one last thing. For all the writers out there spitting nails at this story of a ‘book in 32 days’, I’d just like to say this is not my usual modus operandi! The Middler took just under two years to write, and right now I must get back to that book I was supposed to be delivering when TrooFriend appeared. Did it ever get finished? Well, I’m nearly there. Three years and counting…

Thank you to Kirsty for this really insightful guest post and I’m very envious of your 32 day first draft.

Blog Tour

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

Thank you to Clare and Nosy Crow for inviting me to take part in the blog tour. ‘TrooFriend,’ is available to buy now online.

The Thirteenth Home of Noah Bradley – Amber Lee Dodd

 

For once in Noah Bradley’s life, he feels happy and everything seem to be going to plan. He’s settled in at school and managed to befriend the popular crowd and loves his new house. There’s just one small problem that could upset all of his plans, Noah and his family are burdened by a terrible curse that destroys every home the family has ever lived in. Noah has had enough of never unpacking his bag and always being ready to move. Can he and his brother Billy find a way to break this centuries old curse so that at last they can find a place to call home?

Amber excels in writing thoughtful and powerful stories centred around families. The Bradley family is fractured, the stress of constantly moving is putting everyone on edge. Noah’s dad feels like it’s time to have space from his family leaving him to look after his younger brother Billy while his mum works all hours at her new job. So the stakes are high as Noah struggles to find a way to defeat the curse and reunite his family. Although the reader is swept away by the action as Noah faces a seemingly impossible task, it is the connection we feel with the characters that shines through. She offers us an insight into the hearts and minds of the children, each of whom has had their own personal challenges and are struggling to make sense of the world around them and the place within it. Wonderful characterisation meets emotional storytelling in the magical and thrilling tale.

To celebrate the release of, ‘The Thirteenth Home of Noah Bradley,’ Amber Lee Dodd is sharing a different curse on each stop of the blog tour. Today she shares with us an Old Norse myth, ‘Andvari’s Gold.’

Andvari’s gold (Old Norse mythology)

You may be familiar with stories about cursed rings. But the Curse of Andvari’s gold and his magic ring is the story that started everything. Andvari’s gold is an old Norse tale about a clever and careful dwarf named Andvari and his magic ring. The magic ring allowed Andvari to find treasure and become fabulously rich. Pilling mountains of gold into his cave beneath a waterfall, Andvari was very happy. Until one day the trickster God Loki caught him and forced him to hand over the gold in exchange for his freedom. To free himself Andvari agreed, knowing that the ring would be able to replace what was lost. But Loki on spotting Andvari’s ring forced him to hand that over too. Andvari did but only after cursing it, so anyone in possession would fall into madness. Eventually the ring found its way into dwarf hands again, where it turned everyone against each other. One by one the dwarves ended up killing, tricking and lying their way to getting their hands on the ring.

Blog Tour

Thank you to Amber for this really interesting post. You can find out about more curses on the rest of the blog tour…

Thank you to Scholastic for inviting me to join in with the blog tour and for sending me a gifted copy. ‘The Thirteenth Home of Noah Bradley,’ is available to buy now online.