Monthly Archives: October 2020

The Valley of Lost Secrets – Lesley Parr

It’s very rare that I read a debut that completely steals my heart away but Lesley Parr’s, ‘The Valley of Lost Secrets,’ is one of these unique finds. From the moment Jimmy and his brother Ronnie arrive in Llanbryn, a small mining village, we can feel the impact evacuation and the war has on him. It’s not the green lush countryside his Dad promised him, he can’t read the sign at the train station and nothing feels right everything feels wrong. While Ronnie quickly settles in and embraces his new life with the Thomas’s, Jimmy is reluctant and resentful. Convinced the war will be over by Christmas, he doesn’t want to accept their kindness feeling like it would be a betrayal to his family. Despite being surrounded by people, he feels alone. His best friend has changed and there’s no one he can confide in. But then Jimmy discovers a secret hidden in the valley, a skull inside a tree. He realises that this is too much for even him to figure out by himself and with the help of an unlikely friend they try to find out the truth, a truth that will change lives in the most unexpected of ways.

I wasn’t prepared for how emotional I would feel when I read this book and it’s because Lesley has a talent for creating characters that you genuinely care about. You know when a story has completely taking over your heart and mind, when you’re desperate to find out what happened to the characters after the story finishes. She gives us a real insight into the characters in the smallest of ways which for me makes it even more powerful. For Jimmy it’s his physical reaction of the relief of knowing someone is safe, while for Florence it’s her desperate need to have the one small thing found that makes her feel loved and cared for. I really felt like the setting was a character in it’s own right, the reader is completely transported to Llanbryn a place where knowing everyone can be a blessing and a curse. You could feel the stares from those who were suspicious of the refugees penetrating the children’s minds and could see how much it effected them. I love how Lesley chose to show the Wales she loves, an industrial heartland where the harshness of the mine may contrast against the beauty of the mountains but it’s the beating heart of the community, the place that sustains the inhabitants. Hauntingly beautiful storytelling, this story had me in tears by the end. A truly extraordinary and accomplished debut which is destined to become a future classic.

Thank you to Bloomsbury for sending me a gifted proof copy. ‘The Valley of Lost Secrets,’ is released on the 7th January and is available to pre-order now online or from any good bookshop. If you can please support your local independent bookshop, you can find your nearest one here.

Tales By Mail – Book Subscription

Today on the blog I’m excited to share with you a wonderful book subscription that I have been sent that I absolutely loved. I hate to mention the C word in October but I’m reliably informed by my children that Christmas is only 63 days away and if you’re looking for a perfect gift for Christmas (or even birthdays) or you know a child who just loves books then this would be an ideal treat. Tales By Mail is a bi-monthly book subscription service featuring middle grade books for 8 – 12 years. I will be revealing the contents of the latest box, Magic Menageries…

Let’s find out what’s inside the box…

Not only do you received these wonderful books featuring fantastic beasts, each box will also contain signed bookplates and letters from the authors, Chronicle pages including games and activities and a few themed surprises. A follow-up podcast episode will include Q&As with the authors and a book group chat with our school Pod Squad. My daughter absolutely loved all of these added extras especially the badges and temporary tattoos. It’s such a treat for booklovers to have signed bookplates especially at the moment with no real life book events taking place, it makes the books really special for them. Here’s a sneak peek of what’s inside…

Let’s move on to the stars of the show, the books themselves…

BOOK ONE stars an animal lover who gets more than she bargained for when she takes on a role caring for a strange collection of magical creatures at a spooky ancient hall! With a house full of dark secrets and so many weird and wonderful animals to look after, can our young heroine rise to the challenge?

This book doesn’t officially hit bookshop shelves until November 2020, meaning that Tales by Mail members will get to read it before anyone else!!

BOOK TWO is set during the Blitz in London and features a brave brother on a mission to save his sister. Luckily, his three imaginary friends come to life to help with his quest! However, their rescue team is put under pressure when a strange magical enemy is called from a mystical realm to chase them down, can they escape unscathed before the war catches up?

Can you guess what they might be? If you don’t want to find out what books are inside the Magical Menageries box click here to visit the website.

And for those of you who can’t resist finding out what they are…

Ross Montgomery’s, ‘The Midnight Guardians,’ and Damaris Young’s, ‘The Creature Keeper,’ both feature in this month’s box. I’m a huge fan of both Ross and Damaris and will be featuring reviews of both of these books next month on the blog. I think these are brilliant choices and will absolutely enchant and delight children (and adults alike) with their truly magical storytelling.

To find out more about these subscriptions and order your own box, head over to the website.

Thanks to Tales By Mail for sending me a gifted Magical Menageries box, my daughter was overjoyed to receive this and has already devoured Ross’s book and told me that I have to read it!

The Ten Riddles of Earth Quicksmith by Loris Owen

For Kip life is difficult, he’s struggling to fit into school and his whole family is in turmoil. Things dramatically change for the better when a mysterious invitation is delivered to him by a strange beetle shaped drone that appears to be alive. Invited to attend Quicksmiths, an unorthodox school beyond the realms of his imaginations, a place where he finally feels normal. School life is quickly disrupted when a challenge is set to solve ten riddle in ten days to reveal the location of the The Ark of Ideas, where the school’s founder Eartha Quicksmith’s immense knowledge has been stored, hidden away to protect it from dark forces who would use its power for evil. Kip is determined to solve the riddles hoping that the Ark may find a way to save his family, but it’s a race against time. Can Kip and his friends find a way to navigate these complex and dangerous tasks before the Ark falls into the wrong?

I had so much fun reading this brilliant and inventive book. Loris has created a truly magnificent world that will delight and astound readers with it’s fully imagined school for children with remarkable abilities. The attention to detail is amazing, it has a real cinematic quality allowing the reader to visualise the setting as it emerges before their eyes. The strange energies, the remarkable inventions and the weird creatures that inhabit this school are wonderfully compelling. She has also created the most complex and interesting characters who you can’t help root for. From the vulnerable but brave Kip, who will stop at nothing to help his family to Albert his loyal and brilliant friend. This is more than just a thrilling edge-of-your-seat adventure it’s about learning to believe in yourself and the power of friendships to become unstoppable collaborations even in the darkest of times. I think children will love trying to solve the puzzles and riddles within the story that Loris has cleverly constructed, it gives this story an added element of mystery and intrigue. Thoughtfully produced with a stunning cover by Anne Glenn, this book stands out from the crowd. This is a really cracking debut, I really hope there’s more adventures to come for Kip and his friends.

Thanks to Meg and Firefly for sending me a gifted proof copy of this book. ‘The Ten Riddles of Eartha Quicksmith,’ is available to buy now online or from any good bookshop. If you can please support your local independent bookshop, you can find your nearest one here.

Midnight Magic – Michelle Harrison, illustrated by Elissa Elwick

Michelle Harrison author of the wonderful, ‘Thirteen Treasures,’ series and the, ‘Widdershins Adventures,’ has created a brand new magical and mischievous tale for younger readers. The first book in these series, ‘Midnight Magic,’ which is beautifully illustrated by Elissa Elwick introduces the reader to Midnight, a black cat born on the stroke of midnight who possesses unusual powers. Not only is she a proper bundle of mischief but strange and mysterious things happen when she is around. Abandoned by her mother she seeks out a new owner and stumbles across Trixie who falls head over heels in love with this cute furry creature. Little does Trixie realise what she has taken on and she soon find herself swept away by Midnight’s enthusiasm for naughty but fun adventures.

Told in bouncy and lively rhymes this book is a joy to read aloud and is bound to delight readers with it’s fun and energetic story. You can’t help but fall in love with Midnight even though he’s a little bit naughty and does have a habit of causing mischief and mayhem with his magical abilities. Elissa’s illustrations in this striking purple palette capture the characters wonderfully and allow the reader to experience fully the magic of this charming tale. I can see it will be hugely appealing for younger readers and it’s perfect for sharing or for allowing newly confident readers the opportunity to read independently. Effortlessly engaging and entertaining, this is a marvellous start to a new series.

Blog Tour

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

Thank you to Charlie and Little Tiger for inviting me to join in with the blog tour and for sending me a gifted copy of this magical book. ‘Midnight Magic,’ is available to buy now online or from any good bookshop. If you can please support your local independent bookshop you can find your nearest one here.

Owl and the Lost Boy – Amy Wilson

I was completely spell bound by Amy’s debut, ‘A Girl Called Owl,’ so I was thrilled to discover that we would be going back to Owl’s world in the much anticipated sequel, ‘Owl and the Lost Boy.’ Locked in a seemingly eternal summer, Owl is feeling suffocated by the never-ending heat. She knows they must find a way to bring Autumn to her world and the key to restoring the natural order is to find Alberic who has mysteriously disappeared. But dark forces are at work in the magical world, there are those who would stop at nothing to stay in control. Can Owl and her best friends find a way to break the battle between the elements before it is too late? Mesmerising storytelling at it’s very best, Amy has delivered a truly stunning sequel that completely swept me away. She seamlessly weaves together the contemporary and magical worlds creating this totally believable place where the elements are at war. The characterisation is sublime as we see Owl and Alberic both realise where their destinies lie as they struggle to make sense of their positions within the fae and the real world. Completely enchanting, I absolutely loved this wonderfully atmospheric and compelling tale.

To celebrate the release of, ‘Owl and the Lost Boy,’ I have a special guest post from Amy…

Returning to Owl’s World – Amy Wilson

Every time I write a book I feel like I’ve forgotten how to do it. I get such a buzz from the rough, unplanned drafting of the first three chapters, and then it’s on to wondering what we’re doing and where we’re going, and how does the magic work, and why.

Returning to Owl’s world was in some ways almost more of a first for me, being my first sequel. And though the characters had never left me, it had been five years since I first drafted A Girl Called Owl, three years since it had been published.

I knew the story I wanted to tell, because ever since I finished writing A Girl Called Owl, the plight of Alberic, living in the fae court with a very troubled father – the autumnal Earl of October – had remained with me. I wanted to sort him out, with Owl’s help, and of course with her friend Mallory’s help too.

Having worked out some of the logistics of their adventure, I found myself in an eternal summer with Owl. It was a nightmare for both of us, and for the world, and for most of my characters. But the writing of it was not. I tend to learn things the hard way – by getting things wrong first – and of course there was much editing to do, but perhaps five books in I have learned some things. I have learned that if I keep going, the story will too. And that if I’ve done a plan, I won’t get too lost along the way. That world of fae, of seasons, of nature that is alluring and dangerous and of characters who fight with all they have and get things wrong and find their way, was welcoming, and familiar. Owl is still my girl, together we got there.

Thank you to Amy for this really intriguing guest post, if you haven’t had a chance to read, ‘A Girl Called Owl,’ you can buy it online or from any good bookshop.

Blog Tour

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

‘Owl and the Lost Boy,’ is available to buy online now or from any good bookshop. If you can please support your local independent bookshop, you can find your nearest one here.

Brilliant Barrington Stoke books

As a school librarian I’m often asked for help from parents for reluctant and struggling  readers. Book by Barrington Stoke usually spring to mind. We have a large selection of them in the school library because I’m such a huge fan of how accessible they are to all children. All of these books 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. They are often my first choice of read when choosing a book to read with children during their library sessions. Not only that, they feature a wide range of great authors and am delighted to share three new releases with you on the blog today.

Queen of King Street – by Tom McLaughlin

I’ve been a big fan of Tom McLaughlin since my blog began over five years ago, so I was thrilled to discover he was bringing his talent for comedy to Barrington Stoke. In ‘Queen of King Street,’ we see the royal family booted out of Buckingham Palace after a rogue hand in Happy Families by the hapless and consistently unlucky Bertie. Horrified to be penniless and disliked by their neighbours after years of frivolous spending and being (seemingly) adored by the public, the family are forced to find a way to survive. But trying to forge a new life is somewhat tricky when you’re the most famous family in the land. Packed with Tom’s trademark, irresistible combination of slapstick and subtle humour he entertains and amuses the reader with their bizarre shenanigans. The characterisation is absolutely superb and brilliantly satirical, I particularly love the Queen whose complete lack of knowledge about ‘real life,’ brought tears to my eyes, I was laughing so much. While this is a complete laugh-out-loud read it does remind us that we can’t always recognise what the important things are in our life until we don’t have them anymore and they might not be what you expect them to be. A triumph of chaotic and comedic storytelling.

The Griffin Gate – by Vashti Hardy, Illustrated by Natalie Smilie

Blue Peter Book Award winner Vashti Hardy is renowned for creating the most fantastically imagined worlds full of the unexpected, so I was intrigued to see how she would bring the world of Moreland to life in just over a hundred pages. Yet somehow she still manages to conjure up a vivid world – where the wardens of Moreland protect their people wit the use of teleport technology and the Griffin map – in this thrilling and fast-paced story. Grace is desperate to be a warden like the rest of her family but she is too young to go on missions. When she finds herself alone and a distress call comes in, she can’t resist the temptation to prove her family wrong but unwittingly she finds herself in a desperate and dark situation. Can she find a way to outwit the despicable villain? Exciting and mysterious, this story is completely compelling and I absolutely raced through it. It’s a perfect of Vashti’s signature style with an intriguing mix of monsters, mechanicals and brave characters. I have to mention Natalie Smillie’s glorious illustrations which wonderfully enhance the story building the drama and tension as it unfolds. I particularly love the illustration with the Griffin map, it helps the reader imagine this magical creation. A wonderful collaboration and I can’t wait to read their next adventure, ‘The Puffin Portal.’

The House of Clouds – by Lisa Thompson, illustrated by Alice McKinley

Following on from the success of her first Barrington Stoke title, the wonderful and moving, ‘Owen and the Soldier,’ Lisa is back with another thoughtful tale. In, ‘The House of Clouds,’ we meet Tabby whose life has been disrupted since her Grandad moved in with them, he takes up too much room and treats her like a baby sharing silly made-up stories. The absolute worst thing is she has to walk his stinky dog Buster and one day as she tries to stay out of her sight from her former friends, she spots a mysterious and empty house on top of a cliff. Inside she spies something very strange hidden under an old sheet. Spooked by what she sees, she can’t help mentioning it to her Grandad who tells her a fantastical story that she knows can’t possibly be true. But when tragedy strikes, Tabby is forced to consider that for once her Grandad may have been telling the truth. A beautiful and heart-warming story of families and loss. Lisa gives us a real insight into the mind of Tabby as she struggles to come to terms with the changes in her life. By sprinkling a layer of imagination and wonder in this story, it allows a ray of happiness to shine through and binds Grandad and Tabby together in this shared and magical secret. A truly heart-warming and special story brought to life by Alice McKinley’s gentle and warm illustrations. Another absolute joy of a story from Lisa Thompson.

Thanks to Kirstin and Barrington Stoke for sending me gifted copies of these lovely books. You can buy all of them online now (click on the title to buy) or from any good bookshop. If you can please support your local bookshop, you can find your nearest one here.

Big Bright Feelings – Tom Percival

Sometimes it’s difficult for children to express their emotions and at the moment we are living in a world that none of us – including the grown ups – have experienced before. Our lives have been turned upside down in ways we have never expected and children have had to adjust and become resilient to change. There has been a surge in books published that try to explain to children what is going on in the world and how we can deal with the emotions that they might be experiencing. Now more than ever I have realised how important books by can be for children to help understand and deal with thoughts that are in their heads and feelings that they may be struggling to control. Tom Percival has created a wonderful range of picture books in the, ‘Big Bright Feelings,’ series which are really useful and would be perfect for sharing with children at home and in school.

Perfectly Norman

Norman had always been perfectly normal, until one day he unexpectedly grows a pair of wings. At first he is excited about all the fun he can have with his magnificent new wings until he realises something, maybe not everyone will be as accepting of this change. Worried and confused he tries to cover up his wings so that no-one can discover his secret. But hiding his true nature means he can’t do any of the things he loves doing, playing with his friends, going swimming making him completely miserable. Angry and frustrated, Norman realises the only way to be happy is to embrace his true self and he’s overjoyed when people accept his difference so easily. I love how Tom captures the emotions Norman is feeling in the contrast between the stark and bright palette, it helps younger readers understand he is sad. The explosion of colour when Norman decides to be brave is so joyful and inspiring, it feels like a celebration of the wonder of being different. A wonderful and heartfelt story about the power of accepting yourself regardless of what others may think of you.

Ruby’s Worry

Ruby has always been happy, until one day she discovered something wasn’t quite right. She discovered she had a worry. At first it was such a small worry it didn’t even bother her but with each day the worry got bigger and bigger, till it was so huge it filled up most of the school bus and she couldn’t stop thinking about her worry. Every where she went the worry was there consuming her everyday thoughts, until one day she spots a boy who looked sad just like her and he had his very own worry. When she asked him about his worry, Ruby could see it shrink and she realised something very important. If you talk about your worries with other people, it might not make them go away but it will definitely make you feel better. This beautiful and thoughtful book acts as a reassurance and comfort for children who may be concerned about sharing their worries. By bringing worry to life in the pictures, Tom is able to highlight how quickly worries can get out of hand if we tried to supress them. A perfect book for encouraging children to share their worries.

Ravi’s Roar

Ravi is the youngest AND the smallest in his family and usually he doesn’t mind until one day everything goes wrong. During hide and seek he can’t find anyone, he’s too small to be allowed on the big slide and when they run to the ice cream van he comes last and all the ice cream is sold out. Ravi gets angrier and angrier until he can control it no longer and turns into a tiger, letting out a huge roar and suddenly he can do anything he wants. But the novelty of getting his own way all of the time and roaring at everyone quickly wears off when he sees that nobody wants to play with him anymore because of his terrible temper. This book brilliantly explores how easy it is for us to let our emotions control us, it highlights how we can learn to express our feelings in a way that doesn’t upset or hurt anyone else. By turning Ravi into a Tiger it cleverly demonstrates his anger in a way that children will understand and helps them understand the impact of their behaviour on others. An entertaining and engaging way to explore feelings for younger readers.

Meesha Makes Friends

Meesha is wonderfully creative and has a talent for making things but the one thing she can’t make is friends, she is crippled with shyness and is unable to make the first step. She decides if she can’t make real life friends she will create her own friends with her paints, pencils and tools. At first these new friends feel enough but slowly she understands that they can’t play with her in the same way and it makes her feel even sadder. But a chance encounter with a boy at a party who seems intrigued by her creations gives her the opportunity to try and be a little bit brave and before she knows it she is able to use her talents in a whole new way to make friends. This story allows children to understand that not everyone finds it easy to fit in and be the same as everyone else and if we try to connect with them we may help them find a way to acceptance and happiness. Beautifully told, this is a warm and friendly way of exploring friendship with children.

Thank you to Bloomsbury for sending me gifted copies of these wonderful books. They are now available to buy online (click on the title to buy) or from any good bookshop. If you can please support your local independent bookshop, you can find your nearest one here.

The Orphans of St Halibut’s by Sophie Wills, illustrated by David Tazzyman

The orphans at St Halibut’s Home for Waifs and Strays are quite ecstatic, which is strange considering they are locked away in an establishment known for it’s strict and cruel regime. But Tig, Herc and Stef are hiding a secret, which if discovered could condemn them to a life in the terrifying Mending House. A place that sucks the very life and joy out of children, destroying any tiny amount of happiness they may have left. And when the children discover they are about to be inspected by DEATH (the Department for Education, Assimilation, Training and Health), they realise that the game might well and truly be up. It’s going to take a cunning plan, a bad-tempered goat and a lot of luck if they’re going to get away with their terrible deed.

From the moment you start reading this story, you know this is not your average adventure. It opens with a hilarious and somewhat bonkers discovery that will delight the reader with the deliciously dark and downright outrageous situation the children find themselves in. Anarchy rules, unfortunately they quickly realise there will be consequences for their actions but every time it looks like they’re about to be caught red handed more unavoidable accidents seem to occur causing mayhem for anyone unlucky enough to be nearby. The characterisation is marvellous, with the most foul but hapless villains who are no match for these badly behaved but incredibly smart children. David’s gothic but humorous illustrations enhance this ghastly story giving it just enough of a comic edge to make it feel more tongue-in-cheek than outrageously gruesome. At the heart of this story we feel the incredibly strong bond between the children which is shown in the lengths they will go to in order to protect each other. Engaging and entertaining, ideal for children who like their humour on the dark side.

Blog Tour

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

Thank you to Sabina and Macmillan for inviting me to join in with the blog tour and for sending me a gifted copy of the book. ‘The Orphans of St Halibut,’ is available to buy now online or from any good bookshop. If you can please support your local independent bookshop, you can find your nearest one here.