Author Archives: bookloverjo

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

Christmas isn’t Christmas unless I find a book inside my stocking on Christmas Day. At this time of the year I can’t resist a Christmas story for sharing with my girls, reading at Storytime or for spoiling myself with some peace and quiet and a festive read. Today I am sharing with you my pick of some of my favourite Christmas books for younger readers. If you’re looking for the perfect Christmas gift then all of these are just wonderful.

Jingle Bells – Tracey Corderoy & Steven Lenton

I’m a huge fan of the adventures of the brave baker dogs Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam, so was thrilled to discover they have a new festive adventure in their illustrated fiction series ‘Jingle Bells.’ As soon as I put these books on the library shelves they mysteriously disappear, sounds like a case for Shifty and Sam to investigate. Yet again they’re packed with thrills, spills and mysteries as our dynamic duo try to solve more wacky mysteries. Dealing with a present-grabbing red panda, an illusive sea-monster and a not so lucky cat these hilarious stories will captivate the imagination of newly confident readers. A combination of marvellous storytelling and sublime illustrations ‘Jingle Bells’ is just divine I absolutely loved it.

 

I Killed Father Christmas – Anthony McGowan & Chris Riddell

 ‘I Killed Father Christmas’ is pure Christmas magic. It’s more Christmassy than a room full of reindeers, tinsels and baubles with carol singers singing ‘We Wish You A Merry Christmas.’ It’s Christmas Eve and Jo-Jo’s mum and dad are having a huge argument over his excessive Christmas list which is so long surely it will stop Father Christmas being able to deliver to all the children in the world. Convinced he’s killed Father Christmas he sets off to take on the big man’s job dressed up in his Mum’s red coat with pillowcases stuffed with his old toys for his whole street. But things don’t go exactly to plan and Jo-Jo soon learns there’s more to Christmas than expensive gifts, in this wonderful tale stuffed with heart and humour. I absolutely love the Little Gems series and this has to be one of my favourites this year.

 

The Happy Christmas – Jenny Colgan & Thomas Docherty

‘The Happy Christmas’ is the latest story in the ‘Polly and the Puffin’ series by Jenny Colgan. They feature Neil the puffin who first made an appearance in one of Jenny’s books for adults the ‘Little Beach Street Bakery. This series has been a huge hit at school, it’s constantly on loan from the library. In ‘The Happy Christmas’ Polly is waiting not very patiently for Christmas she can’t believe it’s only November. To make matters worse, Neil is helping keep an egg warm so doesn’t have much time to play.   Children will be enchanted by this heart-warming Christmas tale which is perfect for snuggling up and sharing together. It’s stunningly illustrated by Thomas Docherty in a palette of black and orange which perfectly compliments the striking colours of a puffin. His illustrations capture the warmth and joy of this tale and his ability to capture the mood in the characters expressions help engage younger children who may not be able to read all of the text. Inside there are festive recipes, rhymes and activities which really enhance the story and bring it to life for children.

There’s A Dragon In My Stocking – Tom Nicoll & Sarah Horne

 So on Christmas Eve the expectations are high that somebody will be coming down your chimney laden with lots of treats, what you don’t usually expect to find is a pair of dragons! That’s exactly what happens to Eric and Pan when they hear voices inside their chimney and out pops Pan’s Mum and Dad. It’s difficult enough to keep one mini-dragon hidden how ever will Eric manage to keep three whole mini-dragons secret. But it turns out that they’re not the only unexpected visitors and soon their house is fit to burst with even less hiding room for a family of dragons. There are plenty of laughs in this chaotic, crazy adventure which are brilliantly captured in Sarah Horne’s lively and energetic illustrations. Why not open your doors and welcome a dragon into your home for Christmas but warning they’ll probably melt your snowballs, flame-blast your turkey and get you struck off Santa’s Nice List.

A huge thank you to Barrington Stoke, Little Brown Books, Nosy Crow Books and Stripes Publishing for these fabulously festive books. All of these books are available to buy now online (click link in the title) and from any good bookshop.

 

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Poppy Pym and the Beastly Blizzard – Laura Wood

‘Poppy Pym and the  Beastly Blizzard ’ is the fantastic new book in Laura Wood’s fabulous mystery series.  Meet Poppy Pym a girl who was left at a circus by her mother and discovered when Marvin the Magician pulled her out of his magic hat. After growing up in a travelling circus, you might think that being sent to boarding school would mean Poppy’s life would be boring.  But fear not she manages to  find herself tangled up in mysteries along with her trusty pals Ingrid and Kip. When a runaway van crashes into Saint Smithen’s at the start of the new school year it marks a series of unexplained events that seem to involve near misses for Poppy. Not only this, Poppy is feeling unnerved as she can’t shake the feeling that somebody is watching her every move.  With the Christmas holidays looming and rumours of a dangerous beast on the loose, can Poppy unmask the hidden spy before someone gets hurt!

Laura has captured my imagination again with this perplexing wintry puzzle. Wonderfully intriguing and featuring the most brilliant cast of characters, with each book this series just gets better. Poppy, Ingrid and Kip make for a formidable team  – although the focus of one of the members could definitely be distracted by any kind of culinary treat, yes Kip we’re talking about you! Trapped in the school by an unexpected  blizzard the whole story becomes really dramatic making it a real page turner. And just when you think you have it all worked out a huge twist is thrown right at you which made me gasp aloud. This marvellous series is perfect for children who love adventures, mysteries and boarding school stories. Full of mystery and mayhem that will test the skills of the very best amateur sleuths.

Thank you to Scholastic for sending me a copy of this fantastic book, ‘Poppy Pym and the Beastly Blizzard’ is available to buy now online or from any good bookshop.

Christmas Dinner of Souls – Ross Montgomery, illustrated by David Litchfield

When you think of Christmas books you immediately think of a jolly Father Christmas, Christmas Trees lovingly decorated with baubles, stockings hung on fireplaces and snow as far as the eye can see. Well let me tell you straight away Ross Montgomery’s ‘Christmas Dinner of Souls’ is a far cry from this. Deliciously dark and totally terrifying this is a real festive treat for lovers of fiendish, fearsome tales. On a dark and lonely Christmas Eve Lewis is banished to the ancient Soul College to make amends for a naughty deed but little does he realise how truly awful his punishment will be. For Christmas Eve is the night where a secret club meets who despise children, warmth, happiness and above all Christmas. Whilst Lewis serves up the most disgusting and stomach turning meals each member takes their turn to tell the most terrifying, gruesome tale. Who will win this despicable contest and how can Lewis possibly hope to get out alive?

This really is the most marvellous of books, I loved how these stories from each of the guests are seamlessly woven into this rather macabre plot. From the haunting ‘An Old Forgotten Scream’ which tells of a dastardly Baron who is tormented by the screams of his dead wife to the cleverly constructed and surprising ‘The Kensington System,’ each of these tales aims to chill your blood. But whilst the reader is being distracted by these ghastly renditions Ross is unfolding an even more intriguing plot as Lewis begins to realise there is more to this dinner than meets the eye. Exquisitely produced with stunning illustrations by David Litchfield this is a gem of a book and perfectly sized to pop into a Christmas stocking. I end this review with a caution, this book is not for the faint hearted but if your child delights in spine-chilling, grim tales then they will be totally entranced by this feartastic book!

Thanks to Faber & Faber for sending me a copy of this gruesome book. ‘Christmas Dinner For Souls’ is available to buy now online or from any good bookshop.

The Accidental Father Christmas – Tom McLaughlin

If you’ve followed the blog for a while you should know that I’m a huge fan of Tom McLaughlin’s Accidental series. ‘The Accidental Prime Minister’ was one of the first books I reviewed on my blog and I reviewed ‘The Accidental Secret Agent’ with some of the children at my school for the TES Class Review. It doesn’t seem like five minutes since I shared ‘The Accidental Billionaire’ on the blog and now I have ‘The Accidental Father Christmas’ as my first Christmas recommendation on the blog today. This hilarious book proves that if you don’t believe in Father Christmas you can end up in heaps of trouble, even more so than just finding your stocking on Christmas Day with just a lump of coal in it.

Ben is starting to have serious doubts that Father Christmas is real, every year he writes him a letter pleading for his Dad to be home for Christmas and every year he’s always away. So Ben decides to set an elaborate trap to try and capture him on Christmas Eve. What Ben didn’t factor in his master plan was things going well err right or what I actually mean is wrong. Little did he realise that it would spectacularly backfire, by inadvertently injuring Santa meaning that someone else would have to do the job and I think we can all guess who that is! But Ben is not the only one interested in mysterious flying objects at Christmas, somebody is watching them as they fly round the world trying to save Christmas.

Sprinkled with plenty of festive magic, ‘The Accidental Father Christmas’ is an entertaining mix of comedy and slapstick that proves to be irresistible yet again. There are too many comic moments to share but the one that sticks out in my mind involves Father Christmas pretending to be a clown, an angry elf and a large saw. Tom’s use of song titles for his chapter headings always puts a smile on my face and a song in my head, cleverly he has managed to  incorporate all the Christmas classics into this story. His hilarious, witty illustrations capture the chaos unfolding as they race around the world trying to ensure Christmas happens for every single child. However the thing that struck me most about this story that it reminded me of the things that are most important at Christmas, spending time with the ones you love the most and enjoying simple objects that you treasure. An incredibly rich spoilt prince just wants his beloved bear back and all Ben wants for Christmas is his Dad to be at home so they can enjoy Christmas together. A wonderful combination of heart and humour makes this a perfect Christmas read.

Thank you to OUP for sending me a copy of this fabulously festive book.

The Light Jar – Lisa Thompson

‘The Goldfish Boy’ was one of my favourite debuts of this year so I was ridiculously excited to get my hands on an early copy of Lisa Thompsons’s new book, ‘The Light Jar.’ Despite my toppling to be read pile I couldn’t resist diving straight into this book and I devoured the whole book in one day because I literally couldn’t put it down. I was totally captivated by the story of Nate and his mother who run away in the middle of the night to hide out in a dilapidated cottage in the middle of nowhere. Nate is lost and confused about why he has been taken away from his home, he has so many questions but his Mum can’t give him the answers he craves. When his Mum heads out to get provisions and doesn’t return his loneliness and confusion is compounded. But salvation comes in the most unlikely of places when he accidentally bumps into a mysterious girl who refuses to let him be alone. This mysterious girl has her own puzzle to solve and together they must try to discover their own happy endings.

It’s so difficult to talk about this book without giving anything away because Lisa has crafted a superb story with so many hidden layers – that are gradually revealed throughout the story – I can’t elaborate too much for fear of spoiling it. But what I can share with you is the raft of emotions I have experienced whilst reading this book. Lisa has tackled an incredibly difficult subject in a completely sensitive way deliberately revealing tiny details throughout the book that when you combine them all together are utterly heart-breaking and desperately sad. However this is just one element of this remarkable story, she has cleverly woven these other mysteries into Nate’s life so that the reader doesn’t feel the full impact of the underlying truth of what has actually happened to him and his Mum. Beautifully written and exceptionally told this is a book that demands to be read and needs to be in every school library.

Thank you to Scholastic for sending me an early copy of this wonderful book, ‘The Light Jar’ is released on January 4th and is available to pre-order online or from any good book shop.

Sky Song – Abi Elphinstone

Sometimes you get your hands on a book that is so full of magic and adventure that you can feel it spilling out of the pages before you even open it. The thought of this book sent shivers down my spine and enticed me with talk of a tale of an evil Ice Queen who rules over Erkenwald, a snowy kingdom where whales glide between icebergs, wolves hunts on the tundra and polar bears roam the glaciers. A place where the children have been left all alone as their parents  lured by a haunted organ have become the Ice Queen’s prisoners at Winterfang Palace. Hope seems futile, despair seems inevitable until fate brings our young inventor Flint to cross paths with Eska, a girl who is trapped in a music box by a wicked curse. Together they must travel to the ends of their kingdom in the hope of discovering the truth behind the prophecy that tells of the Sky Song which is their only possibility of defeating the Queen.

‘Sky Song’ is the most magical, wonderful tale that made my heart sing, my pulse race and filled me with so much joy from start to finish. Magnificently atmospheric, Abi transports the reader to these vast snowy plains –  with dark magic rumbling beneath the surface – where tribes are hidden to protect themselves from the grasp of the Ice Queen. Moving at breath-taking speed this adventure is dark, thrilling and spell-bindingly captivating. Abi has created a cast of characters that are just sublime, a fearless eagle huntress Eska and a wondrous inventor Flint who believe in the old magic against all the odds. They risk everything they love dearly in their battle to save their tribes from the cruelty of the Ice Queen and it’s only the bravery of Eska and Flint that offers a glimmer of hope to overcome the darkness that lies across Erkenwald. Yet Flint’s sister Blu, who I absolutely adore, teaches them both that bravery and knowledge lie in the most unexpected places and sometimes they have to stop and listen to find the answers they’re seeking.

Like the Dreamsnatch series the power of friendship is at the heart of this story. It’s only when Eska and Flint unite that there becomes an opportunity for good to overcome evil. ‘Sky Song’ is a story about acceptance and tolerance, we learn how easily divisions can occur when hate is brought into people’s lives. Blu and Flint are  unique in that they go against the wishes of their tribe to reject outsiders and it’s this courageous decision that ultimately saves them all. The power of the Ice Queen is impenetrable until the tribes join together and unite in their anger at the damage she has done to their lives. An epic adventure filled with heart, friendship and daring this truly is an unforgettable tale I absolutely loved it.

 

Thank you to Abi and Simon & Schuster for sending me a copy of this glorious book, ‘Sky Song’ is released on January 4th and is available to pre-order from any good bookshop or online.

Do You Speak Chocolate – Cas Lester

‘Do You Speak Chocolate’ is an unusual story about friendship developing in the most unexpected of ways. When new girl Nadima arrives at school speaking very little English she struggles to make friends until Jas reaches out a hand of friendship by sharing her chocolate. Refusing to let this small obstacle get in her way Jas tries to communicate in a variety of different ways and she quickly discovers a mutual love of pizza, cake and of course chocolate through the power of emojis in text messages. For Jas this is her opportunity to have a friend who is exclusively her own, after her best friend has seemingly acquired a new best friend.  And so a special friendship is formed but when Nadima’s troubled past comes to light, Jas’s misguided efforts to help her friend put a strain on their friendship.

This is a wonderful story that manages to capture the highs and lows of teen friendship dramas, whilst dealing with an incredibly difficult subject in a sensitive and empathetic way. Cas has a genuine understanding of how girls interact and the pressures that they feel at secondary school. It’s reassuring for the reader to know it’s absolutely fine not to feel like you fit in or to worry about every decisions you make, even if things do go wrong. Jas is like a bull in a china shop she rushes in determined to do the right thing and then when everything turns into to a disaster she does pick herself up and try to carry on. We need to see children in ordinary every day life situations in books to help them make sense of their world and how they feel about themselves within it. In stark contrast Nadima’s experiences as a refugee are incredibly difficult for her friends to relate to,  they can never truly understand what her life was like in Syria. Cas very cleverly captures this fear and brutality Nadima has experienced towards the end of the story and it’s incredibly powerful and moving. I loved the characterisation, both Jas and Nadima’s families feel very honest and real making the story feel incredibly believable. Accessible and engaging this is definitely a story that I will be recommending in my library.

Thanks to Cas and Piccadilly Press for sending me a copy of this book, ‘Do You Speak Chocolate’ is available to buy online or from any good bookshop.