Author Archives: bookloverjo

Marvellous Middle Grade Reads

I actually can’t believe it’s May and after way too long, I’m finally getting the chance to sit down and tell you about the middle grade books I’ve been reading recently. This year has been so busy and I’ve been completely heads down for a very exciting reason. In case you missed it, I have my debut children’s book coming out in April next year, ‘Libby and the Parisian Puzzle,’ which will be illustrated by Becka Moor and published by Firefly Press. I can’t wait to share more with you but in the meantime you can take a sneak peek here.

Enough about me, let’s move swiftly on to some books! So far this year there has been some extraordinary middle grade books (8 – 12 years) published and I wanted to share with you some of my favourites.

Otherland – Louie Stowell (cover George Ermos)

It was with huge anticipation that I opened the pages of ‘Otherland,’ having adored Louie’s The Dragon in the Library series. I’d only planned to read a few chapters when quite aptly, a wicked fairy stole my afternoon away demanding that I devour it in one sitting. Myra and Rohan are life-long friends, more through co-incidence of birth than choice. But, when Rohan’s baby sister is stolen and taken to a magical underworld, they are forced to unite in a battle against time to defeat an evil Fairy Queen. Set three impossible challenges they must find a way to win the Knight Game in a place where nothing is as it seems and nobody can be trusted. Exquisite world-building meets sublime characterisation in the most surreal and stunning story that I’ve read in a long time. Deliciously dark and packed with peril, Louie will take you on an unforgettable ride full of thrills, spills and the unexpected. An absolute joy from start to finish.

The Strange Worlds Travel Agency: The Edge of the Ocean – L.D. Lapinski, illustrated by Natalie Smilie

I was totally slayed by the first book in The Strangeworlds Travel Agency, it was such a captivating and original tale, that left me wanting more. Luckily for me, ‘The Edge of the Ocean,’ sailed into my life bringing with it, a plethora of breath-taking and thrilling moments. When Flic and Jonathan receive an urgent message from the Pirate Queen Nyfe, they pack their bags and jump into her world, The Break. A world full of piracy and magic that is falling apart, threatening to destroy the lives of its inhabitants. Sailing perilously close to the edge of the ocean and facing a seemingly impossible task. Can they help them escape before it’s too late? This is such an epic and breath-taking story packed with so much action and adventure that I could hardly keep up. The world-building is extraordinary, the characterisation is sublime, I barely have the words to tell you how much I loved it. Honestly this completely blew my mind and the ending, well let me just say I cannot wait for ‘The Secrets of the Storm Forest,’ so I can find out what happens next!

A Girl Called Justice – The Ghost in the Garden – Elly Griffiths (cover Nan Lawson)

Justice Jones is back and this term there’s a new girl at Highbury House Boarding School for the Daughters of Gentlefolk. Letitia catches Justice’s eyes for her inability to follow the school rules, and the lack of reprehension from the teachers intrigues her curious mind. Things escalate when her dormy’s midnight feast is disrupted by the appearance of a terrifying ghost and one of her friends mysteriously disappears. With a kidnapper on the loose and strange ransom notes, torn from a crime novel causing much consternation. can Justice solve this confusing crime? Smart, sassy and oh so clever this is a thoroughly satisfying and entertaining story for lovers of mysteries. I completely failed to unravel the clues and uncover the true identity of the dastardly kidnapper. Justice Jones is fast becoming one of my favourite sleuths with her sharp mind and determination to find the truth at any cost.

Luna Rae is Not Alone – Hayley Webster

Hayley Webster’s ‘Luna Rae is Not Alone,’ is an extraordinary debut brought to life with the most beautiful and subtle storytelling. Luna Rae has been upended from the home that she knew, a place where flowers grew under the house to a house where she is struggling to belong. A new house and a new school should mean a brand new start for Luna Rae and her family but something is terribly wrong. Something that fills her waking thoughts and that she desperately doesn’t want anyone to discover. Luna is convinced that she has the perfect plan to solve everything, all she needs to do is win the school baking competition with her mum…but there’s one detail she can’t fix, her mum has disappeared. Hayley has created an incredibly thoughtful story that will quite simply steal your heart. By gradually revealing the layers of the story, she creates an almost unbearable emotional tension allowing the reader to become completely attached to Luna. An exciting new voice in middle grade fiction, Hayley is a natural born storyteller.

Between Sea and Sky – Nicola Penfold (cover Kate Forrester)

In Nicola’s debut, ‘Where the World Turns Wild,’ we discovered that she has a talent for creating dystopian worlds where the reader feels like there is a real possibility that the events could actually happen in the future and terrifyingly this world seems very close. ‘Between Sea and Sky,’ follows on brilliantly with a thought-provoking tale set in a world where most of the land is underwater following a series of environmental disasters. This world is full of suspicion and distrust between those that live on sea and those that live on land. Pearl and Clover’s life is turned upside down when Nat comes to spend the summer at sea when he brings along something forbidden, something that could change their lives forever. Can they risk everything they love to change the future? An emboldening and thoughtful tale which challenges he readers perceptions about the world we live in, emphasising its fragility. It highlights the power of the state to control information and how divisions serve their needs better than cohesion. A tale of hope and friendship rallying in the darkest of places.

Amber Undercover – Em Norry

I think there’s a huge gap in the market between middle grade and young adult fiction. I’m always on the look out for transition books that will appeal to tweens who are not quite ready to step into YA. Step forth the hugely entertaining, ‘Amber Undercover,’ by Em Norry. Amber, is just an ordinary girl trying to navigate the complexities of teenage life. Things become trickier, after she agrees to go to an escape room with her friends. Little does she realises that her savvy decision making and calmness under pressure will change her life forever when she is recruited as a spy. Before long she is whisked away to a secret world, sworn to secrecy and set upon a thrilling mission despite feeling completely clueless. This is a thoroughly entertaining, fast-paced romp of an adventure which will keep you turning the pages. Amber is the kind of heroine that you will want to root for as she tries to battle her way through her undercover mission whilst keeping all the plates spinning in her real life. I really hope there’s more missions on the way for Amber to tackle.

Thank you to Hachette, Nosy Crow, Oxford Children’s Books, and Stripes Publishing for sending me gifted copies. All of these books are available to buy or pre-order online by clicking on the the title. If you can please support your local independent bookshop you can find your nearest one here.

Cover Reveal – Wee? It wasn’t me! by Clare Helen Welsh, illustrated by Nicola O’Byrne

Today I am delighted to welcome Clare Helen Welsh to the blog to tell us about her new book, ‘Wee? It wasn’t me!’ illustrated by Nicola O’Byrne and she will also be exclusively revealing the cover. I have been lucky enough to have a sneak peek and it’s just brilliant. A clever mix of funny facts and hilarious storytelling captured wonderfully by Nicola’s humorous and vibrant illustrations.

Clare Helen Welsh – Wee? It wasn’t me! Cover Reveal

I’m really excited to be writing this guest post for Booklover Jo, with the details and cover reveal of my next picture book!

Wee? It wasn’t me?’ is illustrated by Nicola O’Byrne and publishes with Macmillan on April 1st. It is the second book in a series about Lenny the lemur, who goes on holiday and gets more than he bargained for!

In his first adventure, ‘Poo! Is that you?’ Lenny visited the Amazon rainforest and when a nasty niff interrupted his snooze, he learned all about some wonderful animals and their smells.

Poo is that you? illustrated by Nicola O’Byrne

In this next instalment, Lenny is holidaying in Alaska and is once again on a mission – this time to find out who made the piddle of piddle he slipped in.  

Interwoven with facts about wolves, mountain goats, caribous and more, it’s the perfect combination of story, learning and laughs!

So, without any further ado, here it is!

Doesn’t it look brilliant? The insides are spectacular, too! Nicola and designer, Becky Chilcott, really have worked magic. Lenny is also delighted, which got me thinking… are there any other fabulously famous lemurs in children’s fiction? Lenny and I did a little research and picked our favourites.

Here they are:

1. How to Lose a Lemur – Frann Preston -Gannon

In this story, a child tries to escape an ever-growing number of lemurs. It’s fun spotting and counting the lemurs through the settings that include scorching desserts, mountain blizzards, skies, lakes and forests. I particularly like that this story plays on the true to life nature of lemurs –once they take a liking to you, there isn’t much you can do about it! It reminds me of when I was a teacher and I took my class on a trip to the zoo. A lemur jumped out of nowhere and onto a parent’s handbag! There’s a photo of that moment somewhere.

2. The Lemur’s Tale – Ophelia Redpath

A Lemur’s Tale is a touching story about finding safety in a country that isn’t your own. A ring-tailed lemur is stowed away on a boat from Madagascar and ends up in a city, secretly living in a house with a girl and her family. It’s beautifully illustrated and was on the Kate Greenway longlist in 2014. The lemur causes quite a lot of mischief – as lemurs often do – raiding the larder and nibbling plants, but the lemur brings hope and happiness to the Laruby family in the end.

3. Little Lemur Laughing – Josh Siegel

Not a picture book but a collection of poetry, Little lemur Laughing is a book packed with lots of silly, funny poems written by Josh Siegel. This book came recommended to me by another brilliant poet, Coral Rumble, and didn’t disappoint. Covering everything from conkers, to stickers, to spaghetti-eating dogs and a stomping brontosaurus, there’s a poem about pretty much everything (yes, even lemurs). All the poems are wonderfully visual, accessible are perfect for sharing aloud.

‘Wee? It Wasn’t Me!’ is published on April 1st by Macmillan and is available to pre-order now online and from all good bookshops, I can highly recommend ‘Stories by the Sea’ and ‘Bear Hunt Books,’ who can deliver to your door! 

Stories by the Sea – Where Reading Rocks! 

Bear hunt independent, online children’s bookshop UK – Bear Hunt Books 

Thank you to Clare and Macmillan for inviting me to host the cover reveal, I’m really looking forward to sharing this hilarious book with the children at school.

Cover Reveal – Setsuko and the Song of the Sea by Fiona Barker, illustrated by Howard Gray

I’m really excited to be able to reveal for you today, the cover of Fiona Barker and Howard Gray’s new picture book collaboration, ‘Setsuko and the Song of the Sea,’ which will be published by Tiny Tree books on the April 22nd 2021.

So without further ado here it is…

This stunning cover was illustrated by Howard Gray and designed by Howard and James Shaw. For me this intriguing artwork hints at the beautiful tale that lies beneath the cover. I’ve been lucky enough to have an early read and this is truly thoughtful and powerful story which will completely delight its readers with it’s hopeful message. Let’s find out more about what Fiona and Howard have instore for us in, ‘Setsuko and the Song of the Sea‘.

Setsuko loves the sea.

She swims its shallows. She dives its depths.
But she worries that her friends have chosen to abandon her way of life. Then she meets a whale who also fears he is the last of his kind.
In return for giving him hope, he gifts her a song which she uses to remind people of the beauty of the ocean.

The Song of the Sea is a story of friendship and hope in an uncertain world.

This story was inspired by Fiona and Howard’s love for the ocean and by Howard’s amazing skill in capturing its beauty. A proportion of the profits from the book are going to support the work of the Marine Conservation Society. Fiona changed the way she does things after taking part in the MCS Plastic Free July Challenge in 2017. That had to be part of Setsuko’s story.

Setsuko is an ama; a free diver. These incredible women dive without breathing equipment in cold dangerous waters, looking for shellfish. Strong, proud and independent, many of them have been diving all their lives and are now in their 70s and 80s. It is a way of life on the brink, just as the overall health of the ocean and its inhabitants teeters on a knife edge due to human activity and negligence. A heavy subject for a picture book perhaps but, don’t worry, the ending is hopeful if everyone listens to the song and pulls together.

Howard has drawn on influences from traditional Japanese art and updated it with a hint of manga.

Thank you to Fiona and Tiny Tree books for inviting me to host the cover reveal. ‘Setsuko and the Song of the Sea,’ 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.

The House at the Edge of Magic – Amy Sparkes

Today on the blog I’m delighted to be joining in with the blog tour for Amy Sparkes debut middle grade adventure, ‘The House at the Edge of Magic.’ When pickpocket Nine steals an unusual house shaped ornament from a mysterious woman’s purse, little does she know she has set a wild and mysterious game in process. As she knocks on the door something completely unusual and magical happens that changes her life in the most unexpected of ways. Inside this higgledy-piggledy house she meets the most strange and eccentric creatures and finds herself caught up in their quest to break a terrible curse. Expect chaos, carnage and bundles of charm in this truly wonderful story that bowled me over with it’s wild imagination and quirky characters. It totally enchanted me and stole a little piece of my heart, leaving me with a warm glow inside. I think we all need a sprinkle of Amy’s magical storytelling in our lives right now.

To celebrate the release of, ‘The House at the Edge of Magic,’ I have a special guest post from Amy on writing her characters in this wonderful story.

Meet The Characters – Amy Sparkes

Until ‘The House At The Edge of Magic’, I had put off writing middle-grade despite having a million ideas. With an increasing handful of children and already enough writing work on my plate, I didn’t feel I could really give it the time it deserved, so I stuck with more bite-sized writing of picture books, chapters books and magazine articles.

The title of the book had tantalisingly arrived in one go, complete, a few years ago. I knew it was a story I wanted to write. But I didn’t want to write it yet. I started with a few notes about the concept and the characters, with the promise to myself to write it properly ‘one day’. At that point the main characters were twins, and it was set in the modern day. I even wrote the first three chapters where they discovered the House. However, I put the story to one side.

After the birth of my sixth child, I finally admitted there really was never going to be a good time to write a novel, so I might as well get on with it. I revisited my notes. The characters inside the House were already there from the earlier, contemporary version. Having waited years for me to write them, they were practically ready to burst onto the page. Flabberghast the Wizard had always been Flabberghast the Wizard, eccentric, highly-strung and fond of hopscotch. Eric the Troll had always been Eric the troll, too. My eldest son was and still is very into Scandinavian trolls and was annoyed how ‘trolls’ in children’s fiction were so often portrayed as baddies. So, I had created Eric, a troll who is probably the most gorgeous, wholesome character I think I’ve ever written, with a penchant for feather dusters and boiled sweets.

The only one who changed slightly was Dr Spoon. He was originally Agent Spoon, but my editor suggested changing him to something else. The idea of him being a scientist/professor/other-things-which-are-too-secret-to-disclose-right-now came quickly and my fingers were soon wiggling with excitement at the plot possibilities of this change. But his personality and voice stayed the same. Just a slight, definitely shady shift of profession. (I’m sure I heard him grumbling because he’d been called out).

But I still had the issue of the discovery of the House. That marvellous, magical discovery. My current, contemporary set up just didn’t feel right. It was ok, but it felt a little hollow. It didn’t sing to me. I scrapped the modern day setting and took it back 150 years. From that moment, the world felt darker, more mysterious, more shadowy and more fun. The twins and their modern dilemma instantly disappeared (sorry, guys Another time). Which left me, along with the residents of the House, eagerly awaiting to see who was going to find this magical House and knock on the door…

And then along came Nine. As soon as the setting changed, she marched in, somewhat impatiently, as if she’d been in the wings all this time, folding her arms and rolling her eyes, and waiting for her moment to arrive. The outside-the-House world then developed around this broken little pickpocket, and I started to ask her questions to reach through her tough exterior and see into her heart. There were secrets and sadness and so much hurt, but such resilience and determination in her soul. I knew she was ready for the House. Even if the House was possibly not quite ready for her!

The joy of having a book which straddles two worlds was that I got to create two villains: one in the real world, and one within the magical world. I’m not going to say too much because… spoilers. But, as anyone who knows me knows, I am wild about villains, so to create two was a dream. And I love these two villains dearly. Their voices were always so clear to me, bringing both humour and darkness. My core characters were created.  

What followed was a wild and unpredictable romp through my imagination. I planned very little, not only because I’m a very spontaneous person (and probably every editor’s nightmare), but also because that went hand-in-hand with the unpredictable chaos of the House itself. If a character opened a door in there, I didn’t plan what was behind it.  I discovered the answer at the same time as the character did, off the top of my head. That first, glorious draft was absolutely exhilarating and really connected me with the nature of the House. The characters were the anchor – the ‘constant’ in the waves of playful unpredictability. I knew who they were, what they wanted, and what they needed. And that guided the story throughout.  

This book is only the start of their journey. This world is only starting to reveal itself to me. There is so much more to come. And I can’t wait to discover more of these characters’ secrets, learn more about their pasts, and see how they grow and change as more marvellous, magical adventures come their way.

Thanks to Amy for this really insightful guest post, I love hearing from author’s how their stories have developed from their initial thoughts to what finally appears on the pages.

Blog Tour

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

Thank you to Rebecca and Walker Books for inviting me to join in with the blog tour and for sending me a gifted copy of this magical story. ‘The House at the Edge of 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.

The Ghost Garden – Emma Carroll, illustrated by Kaja Kajfež

Today I am delighted to share with Emma Carroll’s first novella for Barrington Stoke, ‘The Ghost Garden,’ illustrated by Kaja Kajfež. Regular readers to the blog will know I’m a huge fan of Emma’s writing so I’m thrilled that by partnering with Barrington Stoke her work will be accessible to so many more children. It’s June 1914, just before the outbreak of the First World War. When Fran unearths a bone in the garden of Long Barrow House on the same afternoon that Leo breaks his leg, it triggers a series of unsettling coincidences that leave Fran cold. Roped into keeping wheelchair bound Leo company, Fran is forced to listen to his absurd theories about the looming threat of war in Europe. But as the pair uncover more secrets, the garden seems to be showing them threatening shadows of the future and Fran begins to fear what they’ll discover next.

I was lucky enough to have an early read of this compelling story and shared it with the year 6 children at my school and they were completed captivated by this eerie and atmospheric tale. Despite only being 85 pages, Emma has managed to draw together all of her trademark strengths: superb characterisation; well constructed historical settings and moving storytelling to create a truly remarkable story. Although our time with Fran and Leo is brief she still manages to convey all the uncertainty of the period perfectly and gives us a real insight into the character’s hearts and minds. For the reader as the story unravels it becomes more poignant as we know the dark times they will soon face. It’s this sense of foreboding mixed with superstition that make for a really impactful and spine-tingling story. Kaja’s illustrations capture this sense of unease and spookiness of this tale brilliantly. A book that deserves to be in every school library, another absolute gem from Emma.

Thank you to Kirstin and Barrington Stoke for sending me a gifted copy of this wonderful book. ‘The Ghost Garden,’ 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.

The Boy Who Sang With Dragons – Andy Shepherd, illustrated by Sara Ogilvie

Today I am delighted to share with you the fifth and final book in, ‘The Boy Who Grew Dragons,’ series. I have been completely captivated and enchanted by this series and, ‘The Boy Who Sang with Dragons,’ is the absolute perfect ending to this wonderful adventure. By now you would expect Tomas to be a fully fledged dragon expert but he is failing to keep the last seeds from the dragon tree alive. If only he could solve the final piece of the puzzle and discover the magical ingredient that will bring the seeds back to life and save the day. Together with his new friend Aura they are determined to uncover the truth but even he after all of his experiences isn’t prepared for what he discovers hidden away for many years as he embarks on the final exciting adventure.

For me this series has gone from strength to strength, every time I feel like Andy can’t possibly create more enchanting stories then along she comes and fills me with absolute wonder. I have a real fondness for Aura whose enthusiasm for dragons and life sparks something new in Tomas encouraging him to find out the key to saving his favourite flying friends. It’s filled with lots of ooh and ahh moments, that will keep children turning the pages. At the heart of these books is a wonderful message about being brave enough to be yourself and to embrace what is unique about you. Once again the characterisation is superb, I particularly love how family orientated these stories are, so many children’s books exclude the grown-ups but here they have a special role to play. Andy deftly mixes humour and heart and sprinkles her stories with magic and excitement which is captured superbly by Sara’s sublime illustrations. All of the elements of each book are drawn together creating a truly unexpected and charming finale which will absolutely delight fans of this series.

You can read an exclusive extract of the first chapter here:

Blog Tour

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

This is the perfect book for sharing in class and Andy has loads of great resources on her website including ones ideal for parents home-schooling at the moment and a teacher’s activity pack –

Thank you to Piccadilly Press for inviting me to join in with the blog tour and for sending me a gifted copy of this wonderful book. You can get your hands on a copy of this and the rest of the book in the series now online or from your local bookshop. If you can please support your local independent bookshop you can find your nearest one here.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas – part two

To shamelessly steal a quote from a song but ‘it really is beginning to look a lot like Christmas’, slightly changing the next line to ‘books in every store.’ So if you like nothing better than settling down with a Christmas book or two, or if you’re looking for inspiration for gifts let me share with you today some of my favourites from this year’s releases from younger readers, all the way up to teens.

A Christmas in Time – Sally Nicholls, illustrated. by Rachael Dean (cover Isabelle Follath)

I hugely enjoyed the first book in this series, ‘A Chase in Time,’ so was thrilled to get my hands on the festive, ‘A Christmas in Time.’ Alex and Ruby are back in another time slip adventure and their aunt’s magical mirror has transported them to a Victorian Christmas. Meeting a familiar face makes things easier but they still have to figure out why they have been sent back in time. Despite the cheer and fun of the season, one of the cousins Edith is desperately sad, destined to be sent off to a horrible boarding school. Can Alex and Ruby find a way to save her from a terrible fate? Once again Sally has brought together superb characterisation with a richly, detailed journey to the past. I loved the chaos and disorder in the house and the wildness of the children who really know how to enjoy themselves which contrasts greatly with Edith’s inability to join in with the others. The attention to historical detail is richly imagined and fascinating. I particularly loved the scene where Ruby is getting dressed and is subjected to the horrors of the corset An absolute romp of an adventure that is bound to delight and entertain children, I’m so looking forward to the next books in the series coming next year.

Clifftoppers: The Frost Castle Adventure – Fleur Hitchcock

Fleur Hitchcock is back with the final instalment in the wonderful Clifftoppers series. In, ‘The Frost Castle Adventure,’ cousins Aiden, Chloe, Ava and Josh go on holiday to their grandparent’s cottages at Christmas. Witnessing a car crash they find themselves caught up in the Castle’s winter play where inevitably a mystery is unfolding. After a break-in, the car accident and the theft of a precious locker, the lead actress is convinced she is cursed. But the cousins are convinced that there is more to this than meets the eye and are determined to uncover the true culprit. As the snow falls heavily outside you’ll find yourself gripped by this race against time to find the locket and save the play. With twists and turns at every stage, it will keep you guessing to the end. Containing just the right amount of peril and danger for younger readers, this book brings this series to a glorious end. This series is rightly much loved by so many children at my school.

Trouble on Planet Christmas – Kate Saunders, illustrated by Neal Layton

The Trubshaw family are back in another fun-filled festive adventure when Santa has another crisis on the planet of Yule-1. Rogue toy dinosaurs are threatening to ruin Christmas be eating everything in sight and someone has turned Santa blue. Can Jake and Lucy discover who is behind this dastardly plan and prevent a Christmas catastrophe? This lively and fun tale is packed with chaos and comedy and will truly entertain younger readers. Kate and Neal make for a wonderful collaboration, his humorous illustrations capture her madcap storytelling brilliantly. More Christmassy than a mince pie and crackers , this definitely should be going in a child’s stocking this Christmas.

Tinsel: The Girls Who Invented Christmas – Sibéal Pounder, illustrated by Sarah Warburton

If there was ever a book that would get you in the festive spirit, then it’s, ‘Tinsel.’ This joyful reimaging of the Christmas story takes the reader on a journey to meet Blanche Claus aka Mrs Claus. We’ve always assumed that Santa is in charge of Christmas but what if we’ve got it completely wrong and it was actually Mrs Claus who wanted to spread joy and kindness to all. Hop onboard the sleight for a truly wondrous adventure where you’ll meet an over enthusiastic, dancing tree, a whole host of elves called Carol and a girl who is determined to overcome all of the odds to achieve her dreams. I loved the this vividly imagined world filled with so many wonderful details. The characterisation is superb, from the brave and endearing heroine Blanche to the despicable villain Mr. Krampus who you will love to hate, they bring the story to life magnificently. Sarah’s cover is absolutely sublime with such intricate details, I would have loved to have seen more illustrations from her featured in this book. Funny, warm and completely enchanting it has everything you need for a fabulously festive adventure.

Trouble in a Tutu – Helen Lipscombe

I was completely enthralled by the first book in the Swan House Ballet School mysteries, ‘Peril en Pointe,’ so was delighted to return to Swan House for another new adventure. When an incident takes place at a Christmas performance of The Nutcracker, Swan House is put on high alert. Could this signal the return of the dangerous criminal, the Mouse King? Milly’s mum is forced to abandon their Christmas plans to go off and investigate leaving her and the school in the hands of the charming Max Deverall. But Milly is convinced that Max and his perfect daughter Leonara are hiding something and is determined to expose them. Helen takes us on a fast-paced and thrilling ride full of thrills and spills as Milly tries to unravel the truth in a complex and exciting mystery. Cleverly plotted with lots of twists and turns, every time you think you’re getting close to the truth something else comes along to surprise you. An absolutely brilliant follow up which I will take great delight in recommending at school.

The Silent Stars Go By – Sally Nicholls

There are many historical books that choose to feature significant periods in history, with the World Wars being a favourite. But for me I’ve always been intrigued by the period of time after these wars. What happened to those left behind, the people whose lives where forever changed by the events that had taken place? Luckily for us Sally Nicholl’s has once again captured a slice of social history in the magnificent, ‘The Silent Stars Go By.’ When Margot’s fiancé, Harry, was reported missing in action she is left with a terrifying secrets which threatens to destroy her family’s reputation. Margot returns to her family to celebrate Christmas 1919 and is forced to confront her past when Harry who was later discovered to be alive returns and wants to rekindle their relationship. Can Margot tell the truth and risk ruining any chance of reunion she might have with Harry? The characterisation is flawless, Sally has a real talent for writing characters we genuinely care about. I love how it isn’t afraid to tackle difficult topics and does so in an uncompromising and unsentimental way. A bittersweet tale of love, loss and the damaging after effects of war. This compelling and thoughtful story of changing lives, hidden secrets and the importance of hope in the darkest of times is the perfect choice for the teen in your life.

Thank you to Andersen Press, Bloomsbury, Chicken House, Faber and Nosy Crow for sending me gifted copies. All of these books are available to buy now online by clicking on the the title. If you can please support your local independent bookshop you can find your nearest one here.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

To shamelessly steal a quote from a song but ‘it really is beginning to look a lot like Christmas’, slightly changing the next line to ‘books in every store.’ So if you like nothing better than settling down with a Christmas book or two, or if you’re looking for inspiration for gifts let me share with you today some of my favourites from this year’s releases.

Dogger’s Christmas – Shirley Hughes

I can’t tell you how excited I was to get my hand on a copy of, ‘Dogger’s Christmas,’ by the wonderful Shirley Hughes. Dogger is back in this gorgeous festive sequel which is bound to fill you with Christmas joy. Dave is growing up and his beloved Dogger is no longer his constant companion, overlooked in favour of new toys he’s abandoned and seemingly forgotten in the excitement of Christmas. But when Dave wakes up on Christmas Day night he looks to Dogger for comfort but he’s no where to be found. Can they find Dogger before it’s too late? This story is so beautifully illustrated and full of so much love and warmth on every page. In a year where we’ve realised how easily we’ve taken so much of life for granted, it celebrates the simple joy that can be had by sharing Christmas with family and friends. An absolute treasure of a book, I absolutely loved it.

The Twelve Days of Christmas or Grandma is Overly Generous – Alex T. Smith

Following on from the magnificent, ‘How Winston Delivered Christmas,’ Alex T. Smith is back with another fabulously fun and festive book that is guaranteed to entertain and engage younger readers. This hilarious take on the, Twelve Days of Christmas introduces the reader to Eloise and her overly generous grandma who lives to shower her in lavish gifts. At first things seem as normal but when snorkelling squirrels and balancing bears get involved you know you’re in for a heap of laughter. As ever Alex’s illustrations are intricately detailed and completely exquisite with each spread being a pure delight. This is an absolute joy to read aloud and you won’t be able to read without a giggle or two and the twist at the end is a really corker. Destined to be a Christmas classic, this is a must have gift for the child in your life.

A Dancer’s Dream – Katherine Woodfine, illustrated by Lizzy Stewart

‘A Dancer’s Dream,’ is a beautiful picture book adaptation of Katherine Woodfine’s, ‘Casse-Noisette,’ in the Winter Magic anthology. Based on the true story of The Nutcracker ballet, we meet Stana whose dreams come true when she is chosen to play Clara but her happiness is tinged with sadness as her sister Olga is gravely ill. Desperate not to let everyone down she tries to immerse herself in the ballet but finds her thoughts tangled up with the fate of her sister. Can Stana overcome her fears and dance like she’s never danced before? Katherine’s brings her gift of magical and atmospheric storytelling to life in this stunning book. It’s a truly thoughtful and heart-warming story, perfect for emerging readers or to share this Christmas. Exquisitely produced with delicately beautiful illustrations by Lizzy Stewart, it is completely enchanting and magical read.

Where Snow Angels Go – Maggie O’ Farrell, illus. by Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini

I don’t tend to read very many books for grown-ups but I can never resist a book from Maggie O’ Farrell, so I was intrigued to discover that she had written her first book for children. ‘Where Snow Angels Go,’ is the extraordinary story of Sylvie who wakes up one night to discover a presence in her room, her very own snow angel that she unknowingly created and it’s here to save her life. She shouldn’t be able to see this being but somehow she can and despite being told she will forget about this night, she never does. Her mind is consumed by worrying about all of those people close to her, who have never created a snow angel, who will look after them? I loved how this story was completely magical but told in an honest and unsentimental way and still it brought tears to my eyes. It manages to be both witty and thoughtful and gives us an insight into the mind of Sylvie who has faced grave danger but doesn’t hide away from it in her quest to protect those she loves. Daniela’s delicate and exquisite illustrations are perfect for this story, she captures the wonder of Sylvie beautifully. This is a story that deserves to be loved and treasured.

Santa Post – Emma Yarlett

It’s Christmas Eve and Santa has a real life Christmas emergency. He’s received a letter from a little girl called Amy but it got burnt coming down the chimney and Santa can’t see what she wants. Despite thinking his very hardest, he can’t work out what she needs. He enlists the help from his friends, the elves, the polar bears and the reindeers. Will he manage to find the perfect gift in time for Christmas Day? Packed with letters and gifts to open this wonderfully interactive book is bound to delight younger readers. It is one of those stories that will be shared over and over again. Emma’s bold and vibrant illustrations are completely joyful, sprinkled with humour and a touch of Christmas magic this book is completely irresistible.

A Thing Called Snow – Yuval Zommer

Yuval Zommer’s books are a masterclass in capturing the beauty and wonder of nature, in ‘ A Thing Called Snow,’ he brings this talent to this lyrical story about the changing of the season. Fox and Hare were born in the spring, grew up in the summer and became best of friends by the autumn. When they hear a whisper of something called winter and with it snow they are curious to know what this thing might be. Together they set off on a quest to find it and on their way they meet many creatures and experience the true beauty of the Arctic. This book is a true celebration of nature seen through the eyes of those who have never experienced this new season emerging before beyond. Each spread is stunningly illustrated in a soft palette capturing the beauty of the natural world. A gorgeous book for curious minds, perfect for exploring and sharing.

Thank you to to Macmillan, Oxford Children’s Books, Penguin, Simon and Schuster and Walker for sending me gifted copies. All of these books are available to buy now online by clicking on the the title. If you can please support your local independent bookshop you can find your nearest one here.

All I Want For Christmas – Beth Garrod

I love Christmas, it’s my absolute favourite time of the year and there’s nothing I enjoy more than a Christmas story. ‘All I Want for Christmas,’ is a huge treat and is the perfect choice for the social media loving teen in your life. Holly is completely obsessed with Christmas but when a mortifying mix-up with her ex and some mistletoe happens it’s just the start of her plans going horribly wrong. Elle is on the other side of the world and is living her so called, ‘dream life under the spotlight of Instagram but the reality is far from the truth. Desperate to win a popularity contest she dreams up an extraordinary plan to swap lives with someone far away and guess who might just be the key to making this a reality? With both girls a long way from home for Christmas can they discover what they both really want from the festive holidays?

This book is a hugely feel good read but it’s not all sugar and spice. Underneath the tinsel and candy cane we see two girls who are a little bit lost and are trying to find their way to happiness. Beth is brilliant at making you laugh out loud as you witness both Holly and Elle going to extreme lengths to tick off their perfect Christmas lists. There are so many hilarious and cringeworthy moments as they both try to fully embrace the Christmas spirit even when they both know something is missing. She cleverly shines a spotlight on how social media creates this false image of reality, luring followers into believing what they see on a screen, when the truth can be so far removed. I think there is everything here you would want from a Christmas read, it’s funny and festive and is sprinkled with romance but it also tackles some difficult themes in a thoughtful way. She has a talent for creating characters that you genuinely care about it and that you’re desperately rooting for and hoping they have a happy ending. If you want to find out if they do, then you’ll have to read it for yourself. A perfect gift to pop in your favourite teens stocking this Christmas.

Beth Garrod

It’s officially Christmas-month! Finally. *scrambles for advent calendar* I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’ve been waiting since March. And now it’s December 1st, what a better time to unleash those jingle balls – and day two of the All I Want For Christmas tour.

All I Want For Christmas is all about two girls, Holly (Christmas obsessed) and Elle (Christmas way-less-Christmas-bothered) as they end up swapping lives for the holidays. But when Holly switches the UK for the States she doesn’t just want to get over her ex (and experience Red Cups in their spiritual home), she also wants to tick every single thing off her perfect Christmas list, including spreading a whole heap of Christmas cheer. And what better way to do it than sharing some of her favourite festive bops? So, every day on the tour we’ll be sharing just one of them – and for stop number two, it’s time for a tune that is new(ish) but still a certified Christmas banger….. (also, sleep check: 24 left. Woop).

Leona Lewis – One More Sleep:

Holly would describe this as a certified bop. Elle’s brother, Nick wouldn’t be so sure – but that’s because he’s never seen the visual delight of Leona Lewis performing it on the X Factor final in 2017 surrounded by dancing Christmas trees and person-sized presents.  A true festive gift. When Holly drinks multiple Christmas hot chocolates in a row, this is *exactly * the type of sugar-based holiday hallucination she’d have. But *maybe* it’s not just the song that Holly and Elle like – *maybe* they might be about to find out that Leona’s right, there is something magical about counting down to see someone extra special at Christmas. And *maybe* they might be about to find out who. But *maybe* that’s telling you too much…

Blog Tour

I do love Christmas and must confess to having put my tree up weeks ago and been playing Christmas music since the beginning of November, so I’m definitely like Holly. Why not join in with the rest of the blog tour for more Christmas songs and reviews…

Thank you to Harriet and Scholastic for inviting me to join in with the blog tour and for sending me a gifted copy of this festive treat. ‘All I Want for Christmas,’ 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.

Fascinating Fact Books – Exploring the World Around Us

There has been a wonderful array of brilliant non-fiction published this year and I’m delighted to share with you today some of my absolute favourites. While they explore a variety of topics what they do have in common is that they’re informative, engaging and feature marvellous illustrations.

Dosh – Rashmi Sirdeshpande, illustrated by Adam Hayes

‘Dosh,’ is one of those information books that all children (and probably a lot of grown-ups) need to read in order to make sense of something that has such a significant role to play in our lives. From the evolution of money to the practical side of how to earn it, this covers all of these areas in an interesting and thoughtful way. In the current climate, money is dominating the news and children are bombarded by alarming news of recession and predicted job losses, so this is a reassuring guide to learning how to budget and how to save for the future. I particularly love how it focuses on the positive ways we can give money away, focusing on famous philanthropists who choose to spend their money on charitable causes . Clearly laid out in an engaging and interactive format, it conveys a lot of important information in an accessible way. This is a must have for every child in your life and needs to be in every school library.

Building A Home – Polly Faber, illustrated by Klas Fahlen

‘Building a Home,’ is a narrative non-fiction book that explores the renovation of an old building on the edge of town. In a world where shiny, new things can seem to reign there is real joy to be had from turning something unloved into something truly beautiful. Polly brilliantly explores all the different processes that take place during the restoration, looking at the army of people it takes to make this happen, from architects and foremen to carpenters and plumbers. Every job is valued no matter how small and I love how this book is effortlessly diverse, challenging stereotypes about the building trade and showing children that anyone can aspire to these roles. The illustrations are informative and vibrant capturing the busyness of the site and the complexity of the build in an easy to understand format. True to life, it does feature spreads with lots of tea drinking and waiting around for things to be ready. An absolute joy of a book which will appeal to curious children who are fascinated by building sites.

The Homes We Build – Anne Jonas, illustrated by Lou Rihn

From houses that we see every day to exploring houses and habitats all around the world in, ‘The Homes We Build,’ offers a fascinating insight into how different the places we choose to live are depending on environment. How do you create homes that will adapt to extreme temperatures, challenging landscapes and varying resources. This book takes us on a journey around the world to discover the ingenious ways people have used in creating the most unusual and interesting homes. From underground villages, to towering skyscrapers and houses on stilts, there is so much to see and learn in this wonderful book. Stunningly illustrated this book is really absorbing, I was truly amazed and astounded by these brilliant and cleverly constructed homes. Living in a place where the climate is generally quite stable, it’s really eye-opening to see the challenges that people face when creating extraordinary homes for ordinary people.

The Extraordinary Elements – Colin Stuart, illustrated by Ximo Abadia

How do you take something as uninteresting and dry as the periodic table and turn it into something children want to read? Well the answer is here you enlist the help of some famous people like Alice Cooper, Freddie Mercury, Kurt Cobain and a whole host of weird and wonderful characters both real and imagined. You then personify each element and present all of it’s key components using a mix of facts and infographics and boom just like that you have an engaging and entertaining read. Presenting complex information in an accessible way isn’t easy but this book accomplishes this brilliantly. I think the inclusion of an elemental ranking will really appeal to children, it gives it a kind of ‘Top Trumps,’ feel that would encourage children to discuss and share facts. I think it would make a useful addition to a classroom or school library.

The World’s Most Magnificent Machines – David Long, illustrated by Simon Tyler

I’ve noticed a real obsession for information books on vehicles and machines recently and I’m constantly searching for new additions for the library and. ‘The World’s Most Magnificent Machines,’ fits the bill perfectly. Featuring 32 of the best machines in history this is a more detailed and thoughtful exploration of machines, looking at those whose imaginations created these marvellous inventions. Featuring familiar inventions like the Titanic and Concorde, it also spotlights lesser well known machines the Gossamer Albatross and the Monowheel. It’s a real celebration of the creative minds who have continued to push boundaries in their quest to devise new and exciting machines. Exquisitely produced, each spread is filled with the most glorious illustrations that are bound to delight readers. A highly covetable and intriguing read.

A Train Journey – Gerard Lo Monaco

‘A Train Journey,’ is in it’s construction alone is a thing of beauty, a real feat of paper engineering. This pop-up book takes the readers on a remarkable journey through history and across the world to find out more about the most magnificent trains ever to have been built. Starting with Stephenson’s Rocket revolutionary steam train and whizzing all the way over to Japan to meet the extraordinary record-breaking Shinkansen bullet train, this book tells us the most intriguing information. Discover how drivers and crew changed without stopping trains, how key features were inspired by nature and how feats of engineering have created the most safe form of transport. Delight in the glorious and intricate pop-ups whose illustrations are packed with the most fascinating details. An absolute must for train fans everywhere.

Professor Astro Cat’s Deep-Sea Voyage – Dr Dominic Wallman, illustrated by Ben Newman

I’ve long been a fan of Professor Astro Cat’s information books and, ‘Deep-Sea Voyage,’ is no exception. Presenting bitesize chunks of information that children will find highly accessible and wonderfully compelling, each page also features striking and vibrant illustrations. Delve deep into the ocean alongside Professor Astrocat and explore places that have never been seen by the human eye because of it’s vast expanse. Uncover hidden mysteries and meet remarkable sea creatures as you explore the world’s waters. From sea slugs to bubble snails there is so many tiny and enormous things to discover in the dark depths. This book is brilliantly designed making it easy for children to dip in and out of and it’s clearly signposted to help them to seek out answers to their questions when they have a burning desire to find out for themselves. A perfect book for curious minds, this would make a wonderful addition to any school library or classroom.

Thank you to Big Picture Press, Faber, Flying Eye Books, Hachette, Laurence King, Polly Faber and Thames and Hudson books for sending me gifted copies of these brilliant books. All of these books are available to buy now online by clicking on the the title. If you can please support your local independent bookshop you can find your nearest one here.