Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Secrets of the Sun King – Emma Carroll

The thing when you are a bookworm, is that you have an overwhelming need to read no matter what else needs doing in your life. Carpets to hoover, why bother they just get dirty again! Clothes to iron, no point they’ll just get creased again! It’s amazing how many excuses I will make and things I will avoid doing just to carve out a little bit of reading time. So it’s only logical that after spending 3 solid weeks reading 20 books for this year’s Blue Peter Book Awards longlisting panel that I reward myself by picking up and devouring my most anticipated read of the year. A new book by Emma Carroll has to be the ultimate reward. I can’t tell you how much I’ve been wanting to get my hands on a copy of this book since hearing whispers about an Egyptian tale featuring a ‘lost boy’ first emerged on Twitter. Then the pain of having a copy and knowing you can’t read it straight away because of a looming deadline is almost too much to bear. But bear it I did, and I can confirm it was definitely worth the wait, ‘The Secrets of the Sun King,’ is a book that dreams are made of, sumptuously told and brilliantly written.

Emma Carroll’s genius lies in her ability to transport the reader back in history and gives them such a sense of time and place that you find yourself right there, amongst the story watching it unfold before your very eyes. London, 1922. Lil’s grandfather is seriously ill and sent on an errand she finds a mysterious parcel on his doorstep. Even more mysterious is the sender of the parcel, a famous Egyptologist who has died in the most extraordinary circumstances that very morning. Unknown to Lil the strange parcel contains a secret hidden inside which holds the key to a story about a famous Egyptian king whose tomb everyone is desperate to find. With the help of her friends, Lil has to undertake a remarkable journey to return the package to it’s rightful resting place, in the hope it will save her grandfather and break the deadly pharaoh’s curse.

Emma has created a truly remarkable story in ‘The Secrets of the Sun King.’ Skilfully weaving this tale with so much excitement and mystery, then liberally sprinkling with darkness and danger to create a thrilling, enthralling adventure. The characterisation is just flawless, Emma has assembled a delightful cast of characters. I completely fell in love with Lil, a scholarship girl who doesn’t quite fit in at her school but has the most fierce determination to do what is right even if it lands her in trouble. Her willingness to do whatever it takes to protect her family, even at the risk to her own well being is really endearing. She is drawn to the daring Tulip who although seemingly has everything she could wish for, is just like her an outsider who is also fiercely lovely to her family especially her brother Oz. Every person within this story has a secret, a longing, that they feel the need to keep locked away.

Emma cleverly creates stories that contain so many layers of thought within them, they have a real depth that I always enjoy. Despite it being four years since World War One ended we still feel the damage still lingering in the grief of Tulip’s family over the loss of their brother and the emotional damage to Lil’s father mental health. We can feel the inequalities that still exist for the working class through Lil’s father’s determination for her to have an education so she can have a better life. It also explores the uneasiness surrounding the treatment of ancient Egyptian artefacts and the entitlement to ownership that was felt by this wealthy explorers and archaeologists. All of these thoughts and feelings running parallel to the story make it so much more than an intoxicating adventure. These elements combined with her ability to write gripping, page-turning tales confirm Emma as an incredibly special and genuinely talented writer, whose books I absolutely adore.

‘The Secret of the Sun King,’ Emma Carroll’s eight book and is available to by now online or from any good bookshop.

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The Secret Deep – Lindsay Galvin

 

Today I am bringing ‘The Secret Deep,’ blog tour to a close with my review of this intriguing debut from Lindsay Galvin. When Aster wakes on a tropical island she is confused and distraught, her mind is full of questions. Where is she? How did she get here? And most importantly where is her younger sister, Poppy? Her last memories are blurred all she can remember is being on a boat with her aunt and other members of the eco-village where she was sent to live after the death of her mother. Nothing makes sense, she can’t think clearly but she feels the answers to all of her questions may lie beneath the sea. But nothing can prepare her for the secrets and revelations that she will uncover in her search for her sister and the truth.

Compelling and disturbing in equal measures, ‘The Secret Deep,’ left me feeling unsettled and anxious in the very best of ways. Lindsay has created a story filled with many layers of mystery that are gradually revealed as the story develops. Each time the reader really doesn’t believe that the reality can be any more shocking yet we continue to be surprised as the pieces of the puzzle slot together. The story sensitively deals with Aster’s all consuming grief examining the physical and emotional torment of her pain and confusion at trying to make sense of the world without her mother in. You become so emotionally involved with Aster’s struggle to find her sister and you feel the inextricable ties that hold her and Poppy together radiating through the pages. Beautifully written and superbly told this is a truly original and spellbinding debut, perfect for teens seeking breath-taking new dystopian adventure.

 

Lindsay Galvin

Lindsay Galvin was raised in a house of stories, music, and love of the sea, and now lives on the Sussex coast with her husband and two sons. She has a degree in English Language and Literature and teaches science. The Secret Deep is her first novel. You can find out more about Lindsay by visiting her website or follow her on Twitter.

Blog Tour

Why not catch up with the rest of the blog tour for more reviews, guest posts and giveaways.

Thank you to Laura and Chicken House for sending me a copy of this marvellous book and for inviting me to join in with the blog tour. ‘The Secret Deep,’ is available to buy now online or from any good bookshop.

The Garden of Hope – Guest post Katie Rewse

Today I am delighted to welcome Katie Rewse to the blog with a special guest post about her picture book debut, ‘The Garden of Hope,’ written by Isabel Otter. This beautiful story by Isabel, tells the tale of Maya and her father as they navigate the difficult path that lays before them with the absence of her Mum. It’s never quite clear what has happened to Mum which cleverly allows the book to be used to talk about the grief of losing a parent as well as the pain of a parent who has left after a family breakdown. A truly uplifting story, we see how Maya finds solace in the garden which her Mum loved so dearly as she tries to bring it back to life by planting seeds. Their growth helps transform the garden and gives Maya a sense of hope in the future that happiness and joy are within her reach. Sublimely illustrated by Katie, I particularly love how she uses the colour palettes of each spread to convey the changes in Maya’s feelings. From sombre dark colours, moving on to those that  sparkle with tiny pops of colour, to a full riot of vivid colours bursting with joy in the final spread. A thoughtful and heart-warming story that manages to tackle difficult themes in a very sensitive way.

Katie Rewse – Garden of Hope

It was this time last year that I received an exciting email from my agent with the project brief for Garden of Hope. For my first picture book, I couldn’t have been happier to be given the opportunity to illustrate such a beautiful and uplifting story. I immediately knew that with the setting of the garden, it was also going to be a real treat to draw.

The brief had the perfect amount of creative freedom for my first book; I was given guidance about what to include on each page, and a few details about how the characters could look, but lots of it was left to my own interpretation.

One of my favourite parts of the process was developing the characters, as I love imagining all the little details that collectively build a character. It’s always so much fun thinking about things like hairstyles and clothing, but on a deeper level I also enjoy the challenge of trying to think about the characters experiences and how these will come across in the illustrations too.

These are some of my first sketches as I began to visualise the main character, Maya.

These are the two designs that I decided to take forward into colour….

… and the final version in which I made her look a little younger.

After getting the go ahead with the characters, I began to work on the rough images. I used to do all of my sketching on paper, but for book roughs I have found it really useful to sketch digitally. This means that, if there are any suggested adjustments, I can quickly make changes.

For this page in particular I was asked to make a few adjustments. I hadn’t really considered that this could be a night time scene, and I think with the team at Caterpillars suggestion the spread was definitely improved. The collaborative nature of illustrating a picture book was a really enjoyable part of the process for me. At times I would think a page was finished, but with a few pairs of eyes, and sometimes with only a small suggestion for change, I found my artwork really grew.

 

In the story Maya pours a lot of love into restoring the garden. I think my two favourite spreads are when we see the first glimmer of hope as she begins her mission to tidy up….

… and the second to last scene where Maya is pictured looking joyful, in her beautiful, thriving garden.

I’m so excited about seeing Garden of Hope in the shops, I imagine it will be quite a surreal feeling.

This year has flown by, since finishing the artwork for Garden of Hope I have been working on some homeware projects as well as some new images for my children’s portfolio. Looking ahead, I’ve got a couple of exciting projects which I can’t wait to start. When I consider my future as a children’s book illustrator, I would love to work on some books with environmental messages; to illustrate a book by Nicola Davies would be my ultimate dream.

A huge thank you to Katie for giving us this really interesting insight into the illustrations in this wonderful story, I’m always fascinated to look at the creative process behind picture books.

Katie Rewse

Katie Rewse graduated with a Masters Degree in Illustration from the Arts University Bournemouth in 2017. Whilst studying, Katie was longlisted in the House of Illustration and Folio Society Book Competition, and shortlisted for the Batsford Prize. She continues to live and work in Bournemouth. When she is not busy drawing, Katie enjoys exploring the coast with her husband in their camper van.

 

Thank you to Leilah and Little Tiger for inviting me to take part in this blog tour and for sending me a copy of this beautiful book. ‘The Garden of Hope,’ is available to buy now online and from any good bookshop.

A Chase in Time – Sally Nicholls, illustrated by Brett Helquist

Today I’m delighted to be kicking off the blog tour for the first book in Sally Nicholls’ new time-slip adventure series, ‘A Chase in Time,’ illustrated by Brett Helquist. Every summer Alex and his sister are sent to stay with their Aunt Joanna in the country in her big rambling home which offers a stark contrast to the ugly house that they live in. Unfortunately this will be their last summer of escape, as their Aunt has been forced to sell her home as she can no longer manage the upkeep. Alex loves the house and just adores all of the remarkable objects in the house that have been collected over the years. But he is drawn to one object in particular, an old gilt-edged mirror because when he was 7 years old he is convinced he saw another boy in the mirror instead of his reflection. And one day when he least expects it he accidentally falls through the mirror with his sister and they end up in the same house but in a very different period of time. Soon they find themselves caught up in an adventure filled with arson, theft and erratic car chases as they race to find a precious family jewel. Can they solve the mystery and find a way to return home?

I completely devoured this book in one sitting, time literally flew by as I got totally caught up in this intriguing adventure. It really is like stepping into the past with it’s considered attention to period detail, told with real enthusiasm and insight. Sally has assembled a perfectly marvellous cast of characters who will delight and entertain readers. Alex and Ruby think they’re way ahead of the game compared to their distant relatives from the past Henry and Dora but they soon find they are a worthy match of pluckiness and determination as they work together to track down the thief. The adults are wonderfully eccentric, so full of life and adventure not realising that they are on the brink of the great war that will change their lives forever.  I love how she highlights the difference between life now and back in the Edwardian era, in particular how Ruby is horrified at the constraints Dora’s clothes place on her compared to the comfortable jeans and trainers she wears. Brett’s illustrations complement this story perfectly creating a truly beautiful and engaging read. Fast, frenetic and completely fun this book is a must have read for any confident child who has moved on from first chapter books and is looking to bridge the gap to middle grade reads.

Sally Nicholls

Sally Nicholls is the author of ‘Things A Bright Girl Can Do,’ and contributed to ‘Make More Noise!‘ a collection of stories about women’s suffrage. Sally lives in a little house in Oxford with her husband and sons, and trying to believe her luck.

Brett Helquist

Brett Helquist is the illustrator of many books including ‘The Series of Unfortunate Events,’ by Lemony Snicket and ‘Chasing Vermeer,’ by Blue Balliett. He grew up in Utah and now lives in Brooklyn, NY.

(Photo by Chris Lindsay)

Blog Tour

Why not join in with the rest of the blog tour to find out more about ‘A Chase in Time.’

Thank you to Siân and Nosy Crow for sending me a copy of this fabulous book and for inviting me to join in with the blog tour. If you’re intrigued by my review you can read the first chapter on the Nosy Crow website. ‘A Chase in Time,’ is available to buy now online or from any good bookshop.

Summer Recommended Reads

So you may have noticed that I’ve not been blogging over the last few weeks that’s because I am working on an exciting new project. I was delighted to be invited to join this year’s Blue Peter Book Awards 2019 Longlisting panel to help choose the 12 books in the ‘Best Story,’ and ‘Best Books with Facts,’ category. This has meant having to read a large selection of books in a very short period of time and I’m currently working my way through some marvellous books which sadly I can’t share with you on the blog, it’s top secret. Fortunately before I immersed myself in the submitted titles I did manage to read some books in July that I thoroughly enjoyed, which I’m going to share with you today.

Flight – Vanessa Harbour

‘Flight,’ is a heart-stopping and thrilling debut that totally captivated and enthralled me in equal measures. Austria 1945, Jewish boy Jakob is in hiding at the Spanish Riding School stables when Nazi soldiers arrive after being tipped off to his presence. A hostile altercation results in the death of one of the rare horses and Jakob’s guardian realises it’s imperative to take the horses to safety. But the only way to escape is undertake a terrifying journey across the mountains taking them straight through Nazi territory. Inspired by real life events, this story is filled with danger and peril at every turn as they risk everything to save their precious stallions. Superb characterisation and edge of your seat drama makes for a compelling and exciting read.

 

The Storm Keeper’s Island – Catherine Doyle

‘The Storm Keeper’s Island,’ crackles with so much magic and wildness, you can feel the darkness rippling on every page. When Fionn arrives on Arranmore Island, he unwittingly disturbs a menacing force that has been bubbling away underneath the surface for hundreds of years. Unknown to him his mysterious grandfather has been the Keeper of the storms and keeps their magic safe from those who would use this power for sinister purposes. And now the time has come for his grandfather to step down, so Fionn finds himself caught up in a hotly contested bid to become the next guardian. Stunningly atmospheric you can feel the elements rise, leaving you holding your breath as the fierceness of nature is harnessed in this battle between good and evil. This is a glorious book, truly original storytelling that completely enchanted me.

 

Secret Seven: Mystery of the Skull – Pamela Butchart illustrated by Tony Ross

As an avid reader of ‘Secret Seven,’ when I was growing up I was thrilled to see that the series was coming back especially as it was going to be in the very safe hands of the fabulous Pamela Butchart. Maintaining all of the charm and fun of the original series, Secret Seven is brought bang up to date in this exciting new mystery. When Peter finds an old skull mysteriously left in his bedroom, he needs to call an emergency meeting of the Secret Seven to help get to the bottom of this strange discovery. When they discover a gigantic hole in the grounds of a local hotel and the new owners are behaving very suspiciously, they wonder could there be a connection between the two strange events. Packed with midnight bike rides, scrumptious food, lots of red herrings and mystery aplenty this new adventure is bound to delight and excite younger readers. Bravo to Pamela who surely deserves a very large slice of pineapple upside down cake!

 

The Trapdoor Mysteries: A Sticky Situation – Abie Longstaff & James Brown

‘The Trapdoor Mysteries,’ is an irresistible new mystery series featuring an inquisitive young girl called Tally and her best friend, a squirrel named Squill. Tally who was abandoned at birth after the tragic death of her mother has been brought up as a servant girl in a loveless home where she spends her days scrubbing and polishing from dawn to dusk and her evenings sleeping in the kitchen sink. Desperate and destitute this doesn’t hold Tally back and unknown to the horrid housekeeper she is secretly reading books, keen to learn as much as possible about the world all around her. Using her fierce intelligence, Tally manages to crack a seemingly impossible code which leads to the discovery of a magical library where books come to life. When her home is burgled nobody can understand how it could have possibly happened but Tally cleverly realises the books in the library hold the key to solving the mystery. Brilliantly written and beautifully illustrated, ‘The Trapdoor Mysteries,’ is an engaging, delightful series and I’m thrilled the follow up, ‘The Scent of Danger,’ is equally as marvellous.

Jelly – Jo Cotterill

Jo Cotterill is back with another absolutely brilliant story that I devoured in one sitting, ‘Jelly,’ is the perfect mix of smart, clever and poignantly funny storytelling. Jelly is the comedy queen of the classroom, she has to be the centre of attention and is constantly pushing the boundaries so that people laugh with her instead of at her. But Jelly is hiding a secret, she isn’t as bubbly and confident as the world sees her. In fact she is struggling inside with how she feels about herself and how she thinks others feel about her. Pouring her heart and soul into her secret notebook, Jelly expresses her innermost feelings and fears, locked away from everybody. That is until her Mum’s new boyfriend comes along and for the first time in her life someone sees through Jelly’s carefully constructed version of herself. Can Jelly risk everything and show the world who she really is? Perfect as a transition read between primary and secondary, it captures the trials and tribulations of growing up thoughtfully and honestly. This is the kind of book I want to put into children’s hands and insist they read it because I absolutely loved it.

Thank you to Bloomsbury, Firefly, Hachette, Little Brown Books and Toppsta for sending me copies of these wonderful books. All of the books are available to buy now online or from any good bookshop. If you’re looking for more books to read over the summer holidays check out Toppsta’s  Summer Reading Guide.

Access All Awkward – Beth Garrod

Is there anything more exciting than stumbling into a series where you just adore the books and know that you can immediately dive into the rest. Well luckily for me the brilliant Beth Garrod has written two books before the fabulously funny, ‘Access All Awkward,’ so I know I’m in for lots more laugh-out-loud moments. For those like me new to the desperately awkward Bella Fisher, fear not I was able to get to know her very quickly and soon discovered we had a lot in common. Yes because Beth is totally, seriously and downright especially awkward, in fact you could say her life just never goes how she wants it to. So it seems inevitable that she’s dawdled away most of her revision time researching rare breeds of dogs, meaning that her chances of going to college with her friends is increasingly slim. But Bella distracts herself from potential misery with the promise of a festival ticket, if only she didn’t have to work as a litter picker to get one because nothing is ever that straightforward for her. And if things couldn’t get worse her Mum has sent her annoying older sister Jo to watch over, officially ruining her life. Surely that’s the worst thing that could possibly happen, what else could possibly go wrong?

This brilliant story just oozes fun and laughter from every page, I completely devoured it desperate to know just how disastrous Bella’s life was going to turn out to be. In a world of filtered, glamourous teens that dominate social media it’s really refreshing to meet someone who is so real that it hurts. There are so many cringe worthy moments for you to savour as we watch Bella turn from loser to saviour much to the disgust of the popular, mean girls. I’m sure all teenagers can identify with Bella, her struggle to fit in, when she can’t afford the best of everything and having the most embarrassing Mum who appears to be up to something very strange behind closed doors. You will be cheering Bella along all the way, wanting to hug her when things go badly wrong and wishing so hard that she can get through a whole day without being completely awkward. I would love for there to be more series like this, it’s perfect for young teens in secondary school feeling totally overwhelmed with what the world has instore for them. Genuinely hilarious from its head to its toes, this is a truly entertaining read that I just loved.

Blog Tour

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

Thank you to Emily and Scholastic for inviting me to join in with the blog tour and for sending me a copy of this hilarious book. ‘Access All Awkward,’ and the rest of this fabulous series are available to buy online or from any good bookshop.

Shifty McGifty & Slippery Sam: The Missing Masterpiece – Tracey Corderoy & Steven Lenton

It was with great excitement that I got my hands on an early copy of the latest ‘Shifty McGifty & Slippery Sam’, book from duo extraordinaire Tracey Corderoy & Steven Lenton. After a hugely successful visit to our school filled with merriment and mayhem the children were incredibly excited last month to get a sneak peek of this glorious new book, ‘The Missing Masterpiece.’ They were entranced by Tracey’s lilting, humorous rhymes whilst being completely spellbound by Steven’s sumptuous spreads. In fact they thought it was very ooh la la! This story has a Parisian flavour as our delightful doggy duo have been summoned to create a truly magnifique gingerbread Eiffel Tower for a very important art exhibition in ‘Gallery Bonbon.’ But trouble seems to follow them wherever they go and they soon find themselves caught up in a calamity when the famous Bone-a-Lisa painting is swiped by a dastardly fox. Will Shifty and Sam track down this cunning thief and be back in time to serve up their spectacular showstopper?

Tracey and Steven have done it again, ‘The Missing Masterpiece,’ is a truly wonderful collaboration that will delight and entertain younger readers. Tracey’s delightful rhymes are a total joy to read aloud creating just the right level of tension and excitement to have children eagerly turning the pages to find out if Shifty and Sam will solve the mystery once again. There is so much humour to be found in this book for adults as well as children who could resist the canine influenced art,  ‘Pug with a Pearl Earring,’ and ‘Frida Collie,’ to name just a few. Steven’s sumptuous spreads are stunning with intricate and funny illustrations, giving the reader a true flavour of Paris. Beautifully produced, this book is bound to become a firm favourite it just demands to be read over and over again.

Giveaway

The lovely people at Nosy Crow have given me two copies of ‘The Missing Masterpiece,’ to giveaway. To enter leave a comment on the blog and/or hop over to Twitter and retweet my pinned tweet. UK only ends 11th July.

Thank you to Rebecca and Nosy Crow for sending me a copy of this gorgeous book and inviting me to host this giveaway. ‘The Missing Masterpiece,’ is available to buy online now or from any good bookshop.