Author Archives: bookloverjo

Vlad The World’s Worst Vampire – Anna Wilson & Kathryn Durst

With Halloween creeping up on us, who could resist a spooky read to get us in the mood for the ghoulish season. ‘Vlad The World’s Worst Vampire,’ is the first book in a brand new series from Anna Wilson illustrated by Kathryn Durst, What happens when you’re a vampire but well you’re not very scary at all and your even afraid of the dark. Well it makes being a vampire rather tricky and all Vlad wants to do his find some friends and he thinks he knows just the place to find them, Human school. But how will Vlad keep his true identity secret from his new friends whilst keeping his new friends secret from his family. A fun, engaging read for younger readers about trying to find your place in the world. To celebrate the release of this spooktacular new book I am kicking off the blog tour with a special guest post from Anna Wilson.

Inspiration behind Vlad the World’s Worst Vampire – Anna Wilson

The inspiration for Vlad’s character came while chatting to my editor about what fun it would be to create a scary vampire family whose son was a complete disappointment to them. I immediately had a picture in my head of a tiny, pale-faced, lonely and frightened little boy who was allergic to dust, hated spiders, was afraid of the dark and couldn’t stand the sight of blood. I didn’t have to look far to find the inspiration for that character as quite a lot of those fears were very real to me when I was a child!

The other thing Vlad and I have in common is that we love reading. I was an avid bookworm at his age (still am!) and would rather find a corner to bury myself in a book than do anything else. So I sympathise hugely with Vlad when his parents are nagging him over his Vampire History homework or despairing that he can’t change into a bat yet – and all he wants is to be left in peace so that he can read.

Once I had established the differences between Vlad and his parents, I found I had started to explore how it would feel to be a child in a family whose way of life is very different from those around them. Vlad’s family is a traditional old-fashioned vampire family – his parents are proud of this and want to keep Vlad from mixing with humans. To ensure that he doesn’t stray from their home on the hill they make him fearful of what would happen if ever he met a human being. They paint a picture of humans as dangerous beings who would harm a vampire if ever they met one.

Vlad, however, is of a different generation. He doesn’t care so much about the traditions his parents hold so dear and he desperately wants a friend his own age as there are no other vampire families in the neighbourhood. So he ignores his parents’ wishes and goes looking for friends on his own. That is when he meets Minxie – a funny, brave, clever girl who accepts him wholeheartedly for who he is and makes Vlad wonder if his parents know what they are doing, keeping themselves to themselves all the time.

I found myself wanting to write a story in which people who feel as Vlad does – isolated and “different” – can recognise themselves and perhaps realise that life doesn’t have to turn out badly for them as a result. Vlad’s parents are quite proud of being literally outside of human life – they hide away in their spooky manor house and never go into the human town below. Over the course of the Vlad series I hope to show that they too will learn a few lessons, however. I hope that as Vlad becomes more confident in his new-found freedom and his explorations of human life, that his parents will accept this and perhaps be surprised by how they are also accepted by the humans who are their neighbours.

I firmly believe that integration and acceptance make for a happier and richer life for everyone – whether you are a boy or a girl or a vampire or anything else in between. So if you feel a little lost like Vlad does at the beginning of his adventures, I hope that you will draw some strength from his growing confidence and become as happy as he does in his own (very pale!) skin.

 

Thanks to Anna for stopping by the blog with her special guest post, I really enjoy reading how authors are inspired to write their books.

 

Blog Tour

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

 

Thank you to Beth and Stripes for inviting me to take part in the blog tour and for my copy of this humorous tale.

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When I Grow Up – Tim Minchin & Steve Antony

I’m not sure I’ve ever read a picture book that has brought me so much joy, than the extraordinary, ‘When I Grow Up.’ Steve Antony has illustrated Tim Minchin’s iconic song ‘When I Grow Up’ from Matilda the musical and together they have created the most wonderful visual, musical extravaganza. Having read it, I immediately brought it to school to share with the children at Storytime and their reactions were priceless. I defy anyone to READ this story, it’s just not possible. I started off with a gentle tune and ending up with a full blown belted out performance and it was totally irresistible to any adult who walked by, they too couldn’t resist breaking out into song. But as for the children how did they feel about a book that couldn’t be read and had to be sung from the rooftops. Well I tell you they absolutely loved it! There were giggles, spontaneous joining in, lots of wonderful interaction and for me as a school librarian well I really couldn’t ask for more. To see their delight as the spreads unfolded was completely infectious, it was a real treat to share with them.

 

Steve Antony has clearly poured his heart and soul into illustrating this book, you can feel the labour of love in every single spread. Bursting with life and energy he has cleverly given us a real insight into adult life just as children envision it, all play and no work. Muted spreads allow the reader to feel like we are lost in the children’s imaginations, as they dream up worlds filled with candy floss trees, biscuit skyscrapers and doughnut filled skylines. Intricately detailed and wonderfully inclusive, each page demands to be poured over time and time again to see what new riches you can discover. Obviously my favourite spread features a library. where the children go to absorb the knowledge they need to answer the endless questions that grown ups face. I particularly love the children’s wondrous expressions as they become lost in books. Exquisitely produced from it’s vibrant eye-catching cover to its paint splattered endpapers, its a book that you will covet from the moment you set your eyes on it!

 

 

Tim Minchin

Internationally-acclaimed comedian, musician, actor and writer, Tim Minchin won the Perrier Award for Best Newcomer in 2005 and has created many sell-out shows. Tim wrote the music and lyrics to MATILDA THE MUSICAL which has won seven Olivier Awards including Best Musical as well as multiple Tony awards and a Grammy nomination. Tim lives in Los Angeles.

 

 

 

 

Steve Antony

Steve Antony is an internationally published award-winning author and illustrator. His 2014 debut, THE QUEEN’S HAT won the Evening Standard Oscar’s First Book Prize and was shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize. It was followed by THE QUEEN’S HANDBAG and THE QUEEN’S PRESENT. Other works include the acclaimed MR PANDA series. Steve lives in Swindon.

 

 

 

Blog Tour

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

 

Thank you to Olivia and Scholastic for sending me a copy of this glorious book and inviting me to take part in this blog tour.

Fascinating Fact Books

2017 has brought with it a wealth of glorious new non-fiction books for children and today I will be sharing my favourite choices for younger and older readers. Each of these books are wonderfully interactive and feature the most vibrant illustrations and photographs to capture the imaginations of the reader.

 

Go Wild in the Woods  – Goldie Hawk & Rachael Saunders/ Complete Night Explorer’s Kits – Robyn Swift & Sara Lynn Cramb

Do you despair of getting your children away from their devices and are you looking for a way to encourage them to spend more time outside? Well Nosy Crow have the very thing for you. They have created two fabulous explorer guides, which with half-term looming offers plenty of scope and ideas for things to keep your children occupied.  We took the ‘Complete Night Explorer’s Kit’ camping and we were blessed with very clear nights to explore the sky using the handy fold-out constellation guide and the torch came In handy when the girls went searching in the hope of discovering nocturnal creatures nearby. Full of practical tips on ideas on: how to look for clues in the hunt for animals; make your own creepy-crawly house; attract moths and much more this is a brilliant interactive guide that is bound to captivate the attention of the most inquisitive minds. ‘Go Wild in the Woods’ is the ultimate adventure guide that that will teach you all you need to know, from building a shelter and identifying animal poo to making a campfire and even getting drinking water from your own wee! If this doesn’t entice you to open the pages then I don’t know what will. It’s perfectly sized to pop in your child’s rucksack on a day out and is brilliantly practical and informative.

 

                      Cool Coding – Robert Hansen/Cool Physics – Sarah Hutton                          illustrated by Damien Weighill

There are two new titles in the Cool sciences series, if you haven’t seen these before they are bite-size guides packed with fascinating facts and experiments to try at home. Perfectly pitched for curious older readers they are stuffed full of brilliant facts that inform rather than overwhelm. Despite having a G.C.S.E in Computer Studies, I could write what I know about coding on the back of a postage stamp so ‘Cool Coding’ is perfect for me to get a grasp on this subject that is firmly cemented in the National Curriculum. This book contains everything you need to know, from the very basics of binary code and how it works, to the myriad things that coding can actually do to the brave new world of artificial intelligence, robots and cloud computing. A perfect introduction for both parents and children with a special mention for the first computer programmer Ada Lovelace, this is a interesting and informative read. Having studied Biology at school my knowledge of Physics is extremely limited and the thought of it leaves me completely flummoxed. In ‘Cool Physics’ you have a playful, enjoyable guide filled with fun-filled fantastic facts where you can discover the deepest secrets of the universe, including mysterious waves, black holes, tiny particle and a tennis playing demon. Containing easy to do at home practical experiments these books are really stemsational (did you see what I did there – sorry not sorry!) and I’m a big fan!

 

Professor Astrocat’s Solar System – Dr. Dominic Wallman & Ben Newman

Having loved, ‘Professor Astrocat’s Frontiers of Space’ and ‘Professor Astrocat’s Atomic Adventure’  for older readers I was thrilled that Flying Eye Books have brought out a new version for younger readers. Professor Astrocat and friends embark on a tour of the solar system on a fact-finding mission about the sun and its planets. What really makes this book appealing is that Professor Astrocat talks directly to the children, telling them they’re about to set off on a tour, encouraging them not to look at the sun and telling them to be careful on the hottest planet in the solar system. The bold and vibrant illustrations are brilliantly engaging and help engage younger children, this book clearly demonstrates how the solar system works in a clear and simple format with easy to navigate speech bubbles.  It feel more like a Picture Book than an Information book and is stunningly presented in such a way that you are drawn to opening up this book and delving in to find out more. Perfect for aspiring younger space explorers!

 

Picture This: A Guide to the National Gallery – Paul Thurlby

‘Picture This: A Kids Guide to the National Gallery,’ works well as a stand alone to develop a love of art or alongside a visit to The National Gallery, to look more closely at the great artists and paintings that it houses inside. This fascinating and engaging books allows children to learn more about some of the richest collections of paintings in the world. It examines how artists used colours to change how we feel about the moods of their paintings, how portraits give us a real snapshot into the fashions of the time and how the lives of children have changed what they wore and the games they liked to play. Filled with crosswords, word searches and quizzes it is an interactive and fun way to discover more about our most treasured masterpieces and the stories behind them. A hands on way to inspire children to learn more about art and be creative themselves.

 

 

In Focus: Cities – Created by Libby Walden

This treasure trove of a book takes us around the world to visit ten very different cities each captured by a different illustrator. Featuring the work of Grace Easton, Sol Linero, Clair Rossiter, Gary Venn, Jenny Wren, Ryan Wheatcroft, Sophie Beer, Jen Taylor, Jocelyn Kao and Becca Stadtlander, each of these incredible artists offers their own unique perspective of these amazing places. It allows the reader to delve into the cultural, social and historical identities of London, Sydney, New York, Toyko just to mention a few. Giant flaps invite you to explore more of each city capturing the very sense and nuance of their personalities. Allowing you to examine iconic landmarks and artefacts finding out just enough details to let you feel like you’ve stood in front of them yourself. Each spread is exquisitely illustrated with the most intricate details this book really is a joy to behold and and deserves to be read time and time again. Wonderfully produced, it is one of my favourite non-fiction books of the year.

 

A huge thank you to Flying Eye books, Hodder, Nosy Crow, Pavillion and  360 degrees for copies of these glorious books. These books are all available to buy from any good bookshop to buy a copy online just click on the title.

The Midnight Peacock – Katherine Woodfine

It is with great sadness for me, that ‘The Sinclair’s Mysteries’ is coming to a close with the final explosive and dramatic instalment,  ‘The Midnight Peacock.’ I have been on adventures with Sophie and Lil right back from the very beginning when ‘The Clockwork Sparrow’ was one of the first books I reviewed on my blog and I’ve enjoyed every minute of these thrilling adventures. From the dark and dangerous, ‘The Jewelled Moth,’ to the sophisticated and complex, ‘The Painted Dragon,’ I have been totally enamoured with our fearless, intrepid heroines Sophie and Lil. The festive season has come to Sinclair’s and our heroines are invited to spend their holidays at the snowy Winter Hall. During their stay they can’t resist the opportunity to investigate sightings of a ghost who is terrifying the servants. Leadind them to inadvertently stumbling into the most baffling and deadly mystery that they’ve ever encountered. With the help of their friends can they uncover the truth in time to foil a truly diabolical plot? As sinister secrets are revealed and aspersion cast on friends, Sophie and Lil must determine who they can trust if they are ever to prevent a catastrophic disaster at the Midnight Peacock Ball.

Yet again Katherine has managed to capture the opulence and extravagance of the incredibly rich upper classes who live a very different Edwardian life from Sophie and Lil. The decadence of the Midnight Peacock Ball represents the great contrast between the immense luxurious world that was the norm for a minority whilst for the majority their existence was far from easy. Yet you must allow yourself to admire and enjoy this splendour because it is so exquisitely told with the most rich and evocative language that it is an irresistible and fascinating world. Brilliantly written, ‘The Midnight Peacock’ brings all the strands of the previous stories together in a plot more intricate and elaborate than the finest parcel from Sinclair’s store. Secrets that were only hinted at in the past are gradually revealed allowing the reader the chance to solve the puzzle at last, as the elusive missing pieces are finally slotted into place.

This is the kind of series that I want to thrust into the hands of readers. Not only does it offer thrilling adventures but it captures a really important piece of social history that must never be forgotten. Expectations for all women regardless of class, were governed within strict confines and their fates were controlled by a patriarchal society. Sophie at the beginning of this series is incredibly vulnerable, an poor orphan with no one to look out for her  who was at this time pretty much guaranteed to have a life of penury, but the lucky chance that was afforded to her by gaining employment at Sinclair’s was her lifesaver.  For Tilly a maid who is obsessed with how machines work studying mechanical sciences would be a dream, but her best hope would usually be to rise to the ranks of a lady’s maid. Katherine never allows us to forget that even privileged women had few choices in life beyond marriage and motherhood and were incredibly constrained by society’s expectations. However the aspirations of the female characters in the Sinclair’s Mysteries reflect the change that was bubbling underneath the surface of this time as the Suffragette movement gained strength. I have so much love for this glorious series and I urge you to read it if you haven’t already. I can’t leave without mentioning Karl J Mountford’s stunning cover and artwork which captures the elegance and spirit of these marvellous adventures perfectly.

Thank you to Egmont for sending me a copy of this glorious book, the entire Sinclair’s Mysteries is available to buy from all good bookshops.

Amelia Fang and the Barbaric Ball – Laura Ellen Anderson

It was with huge excitement that we discovered early on in the year, that Laura Ellen Anderson would be embarking on her first fiction series. We’ve long been fans of Laura’s work having spent hours reading the fabulous Evil Emperor Penguin and because my daughter can spot a book illustrated by Laura a mile away in a bookshop, we’ve ended up devouring the ‘Witch Wars’ series from Sibéal Pounder as well as Cerrie Burnell’s ‘Harper’ series. So it was with huge anticipation that we got our hands on a copy of ‘Amelia Fang and the Barbaric Ball’ and after a small tussle between myself and my daughter (she won of course) we finally allowed ourselves to become lost in Amelia’s world of Nocturnia.

Amelia and her family live in the gorgeously gothic world of Nocturnia where school is at night and dinner time at 4 am because well, the reason being, ok I’m just going to say it out loud and quickly, they are actually vampires. But fear not this is after all a story for younger readers, so our vampires are not blood drinking monsters instead they are more likely to be found eating ‘Flabbergasting Falafels’ and drinking ‘Scream Tea.’ So please don’t believe everything you read in stories, I mean how scary can they possibly be when these vampires are terrified of glitter and frightened of unicorns!! Amelia is just like a normal girl, she would much rather hang out with her best friends, her pet pumpkin Squashy, Florence the Yeti and Grimaldi the reaper than dance at her parent’s boring Barbaric Ball. But she soon has greater problems on her hands than avoiding the ball when the spoilt prince of Nocturnia captures Squashy and refuses to give him back. It’s up to Amelia and her friends to plan a daring rescue but what they discover on the way is that the Kingdom of the Dark is not as it may seem!

Exquisitely produced with the most intricate and humorous of details you can’t help but fall in love with the world of Nocturnia. Children will delight in the wonderfully gruesome details, who could resist reading about feasting on toe jam or worms on toast just to give you a tiny insight. Laura’s intricate and entertaining illustrations capture brilliantly Amelia’s magical home of Nocturnia and the chaos and excitement of their adventure unfolding. However this story isn’t simply a spooky, hilarious tale of a daring escapade, there is a lot more to this tale than meets the eye. Amelia makes a discovery that challenges her very way of life and everything she has been brought up to believe, but instead of shying away from the truth, she accepts it and tries to get others to embrace those who are different instead of living in fear. Laura has created a charming, irresistible story filled with the most appealing and likeable characters which is bound to captivate and enchant readers.

‘Amelia Fang and the Barbaric Ball’ is released on October 5th, you can buy an early copy now at Waterstones  where it is the current Children’s Book of the Month. I am delighted to say that ‘Amelia Fang and the Unicorn Lords’ is released in March 2018.

Scaredy Cat, Scaredy Cat – Phil Earle & Sara Ogilvie

It was with mixed emotions that I started to read the fourth and final book in the Storey Street series from Phil Earle and Sara Ogilvie. I absolutely adored the first book, ‘Demolition Dad’ it featured in My Top 10 MG Reads of 2015 and subsequently raved about both ‘Superhero Street’ and ‘The War Next Door’ how could ‘Scaredy Cat, Scaredy Cat’ live up to my incredibly high expectations? Well let me reassure you, it most certainly did. Phil has an incredible talent for finding stories wherever he goes, Storey Street on the surface seems like an ordinary unassuming place but he introduces us to people who underneath their outside persona have a whole realm of hidden depths, that we get to discover as the individual stories unravel. In ‘Scaredy Cat, Scaredy Cat,’ Kay Catt is the most nervous and anxious girl that you could ever hope to met, she is so scared, even her own reflection when caught unexpectedly fills her with fears. But when a mysterious old man is spotted on Storey Street, an unlikely friendship forms and little does Kay know that he will be a catalyst for change in her life. Slowly as Kay comes out of her shell, the only reason she can think that this change is possible is that the old man – who has a fondness for wearing a cloak and a pointy hat –  is an actual real life wizard!

Hilarious and sometimes heart-breaking, Phil chooses like in ‘The War Next Door’ to take the usually one dimensional characters and allow us the reader to discover what has shaped them and made them the way they are. There is more to Kay than just a simple figure of fun and derision, something more complex lies within her. Kay is convinced by a grieving father that the world is a dangerous place, so much so that her very life is fraught with anxiety wherever she goes. We see the emotional turmoil that she goes through as she tries to obey her Dad’s ridiculously strict and somewhat impossible rules, with her desire to start to make changes in her life. The grief lays heavily on them both but the story is not one of sadness but one of hope and Phil deftly mixes humour and heart to highlight their struggles through the healing process. Again my favourite elements of the story are when the narrator is commenting on the story unfolding, it is this quiet observational humour which appeals to me the most. The mixed-up literary references to ‘Dumblewosit,’ ‘You -Know-What’ and ‘Lord of the Bing-Boys’, because the narrator never did read fantasy books properly put the biggest smile on my face. The glorious ending is more comforting and reassuring than an hot chocolate, fluffy blanket and a cat sat on your lap on a cold autumnal day.

Yet again this book is illustrated by the magnificent Sara Ogilvie who captures the hilarity, chaos and warmth of this story beautifully –  with special shout out for the cat disco scene! I’m a huge fan of illustrations in books for older readers they allow the child to develop their imagination and stop them feeling overwhelmed by page after page of words. I’m extremely sad to see the end of the Storey Street stories but I know that they will live in the imaginations of the children in my school for a long time to come.

 

Thank you to Orion books for sending my a copy of this hilarious book, ‘Scaredy Cat, Scaredy Cat’ is available to buy now online or in any good bookshop.

The Potion Diaries – Amy Alward

September brought with it big changes to the book lover home, with my eldest daughter leaving the primary school where I work (yes, you have to feel for her having her Mum’s desk right next to her classroom) and going all the way to the secondary school  – well it’s actually just round the corner. After spending years knowing instinctively whether or not my daughter would enjoy a book after reading it, I would now be at a loss when she strayed towards the ‘Teen’ section of our local library. So I did what any other normal Mum would do (that’s what I tell myself) and thought about the old adage, “if you can’t beat them, join them!” So it seemed like a natural progression for my blog to feature books which will appeal to KS3 children that have a sprinkling more of romance and danger than I would normally read and recommend. I’ve been intrigued by ‘The Potion Diaries’ series since reading the short story in the glorious ‘Winter Magic’ curated by Abi Elphinstone, so when the lovely people at Simon and Schuster sent me the whole series, I promptly ignored my family and allowed myself to be swept away into a world of alchemy, bitter rivalries and heart-stopping adventures.

 

The Potion Diaries

When Princess Evelyn accidentally poisons herself with a love potion, it causes great danger to herself and the people of Nova. A nationwide Wilde Hunt is called and all eligible alchemists are summoned to find a cure, including Samantha Kemi whose family was once the most respected alchemist in the kingdom until they fell out of favour with the Royal Family. Sam is determined to restore her family’s great reputation by winning the hunt but how can she possibly hope to compete with the rich and successful Zoroaster whose synthetic potions have overtaken natural potions as the people’s choice. Sam is forced to travel the world to find the rarest ingredients –  in order to make the cure. But even if her wildest dreams she could never have anticipated that she would face the most deadly and dangerous of events around every corner. Mix one part magic and two parts danger and let the hunt begin!

 

 

The Potion Diaries: Royal Tour

After the Wilde Hunt, Sam’s life might have changed for the better but that doesn’t mean she’s in for an easy ride. Supposedly accompanying Princess Evie on a Royal Tour it seems like a remarkable and luxurious opportunity for an ordinary girl. However the reality is far from just the chance to experience first hand, beautiful dresses, grand balls and opulent palaces. Sam is up against the clock to develop a potion that will contain Princess Evie’s power so that she can’t accidentally destroy Nova and her life gets  even more complicated when someone tampers with her grandad’s mind. Unknown to Sam somebody is trying to unlock his memories so they can develop the most powerful potion in the world, which people would literally kill for. A whirlwind trip, a race against time and just to make matters worse the whole world is watching.

 

The Potion Diaries: Going Viral

Just when we think Sam’s life must surely be due to return to normal, Princess Evie makes a disastrous match that is  causing division and chaos in Nova. As if that wasn’t bad enough the Princess is showing symptoms of a deadly disease which is highly contagious with the potential to spread like wildfire through the city. The good news is that Sam thinks there might be a cure for the virus but the bad news is that the most essential ingredient for the potion is buried half way across the world, right next to an active volcano. Unfortunately for her, Sam’s not the only one after it. Can she find what she needs against the most deadliest and dangerous of odds, before it’s too late. Oh and did I forget to mention that whilst her life is spiralling out of control she has her very own film crew trailing her every move. This time Sam’s adventure is really going viral!

 

I just adore this fabulous series, it’s fast, frenetic, dark, dangerous and with just enough of a sprinkling of romance not to distract from this thrilling storyline. Sam Kemi is a heroine to love, her passion for alchemy is totally captivating. One of my favourite things that captures this wonderfully is the way Sam’s brain is automatically tuned to creating the perfect potions to cure in her head every time she comes across an ailment and how every ingredient she spots is scooped right up into her mind to be used for a multitude of potions. She lives and breathes alchemy from her fingers to her toes but she refuses to allow herself to be drawn into the battle between the old natural methods and the new synthetic creations, because in her heart she is practical and wants the best for everyone. I loved Princess Evie, who unwittingly manages to fling Sam and her people of Nova into increasing danger not for purely selfish reasons but because she can’t conform and accept the royal bonds than constrain her from making her own choices. In a world of limited choice and high expectations she is the one who refuses to be what everyone expects her to be. Not only is it an exciting adventure, it quite cleverly gives us an insight into how easily division can occur in society and how people can react in the most unexpected of ways when put under enormous pressure. And just one more thing, just when I thought I couldn’t love it any more it’s genuinely diverse which sadly we don’t see enough of in children’s books. So what are you waiting for, if you have a young tween/teen who loves being taken on breath-taking adventures then this is the series for you. Enjoy!

Thank you to Simon & Schuster for sending me ‘The Potion Diaries’ series it has been a huge treat to read. All of the books are available to buy now from any good bookshop.