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Interview with a Tiger & Other Clawed Beasts Too – Andy Seed, illustrated by Nick East

Andy Seed, author of over 20 non-fiction titles for children and a previous winner of the Blue Peter Book Award is back with a new information book, ‘Interview with a Tiger & Other Clawed Beasts Too.’ Brilliantly illustrated by Nick East this book lets up get up close and personal with then fierce and furry beasts to find out more about their habits, likes and dislikes, asking them the questions you’d only dared to dream of asking. Who wouldn’t want to ask a lion if he has seen the Lion King, it’s at the forefront of all our minds if we’d ever had the chance to bump into one! Entertaining and engaging this book is packed with fascinating facts (and slightly bizarre ones too) and will appeal to younger readers with it’s humorous and lively illustrations.

To celebrate the release of this tigeriffic book, I have a special guest post from the author Andy Seed.

Interview with a Tiger guest blog post – Andy Seed

ANDY_SEED

I think not many people would classify children’s author as a dangerous job. I mean we’re rarely called to dive deep into the North Atlantic, and I can’t recall too many occasions where I’ve had to rescue a puppy from a crumbling cliff or defuse an unexploded grenade in a pensioner’s loft.

OK, so a lot of us go into schools and have to answer really strange questions from six-year-olds. And we do take risks if we attempt to express an opinion on Twitter, but mostly it’s a safe affair… unless, that is, you need to interview a tiger.

That’s exactly what I did in my new book Interview with a Tiger & Other Clawed Beasts Too. It wasn’t easy but I just about escaped alive!

Interestingly, the tiger asked if she could interview me too and, exclusively, here is our chat…

Tiger: What’s it like being an author? Do you have to hunt for food?

Andy: It’s great being an author. I love writing fun books, especially about tigers. But, no, we don’t have to hunt for our food – we have things called shops. Actually, we don’t even use those much at the moment – the food is just sort of, er, delivered to our door. Wow, we have it easy compared with you.

Tiger: Can’t be bad. Maybe you can organise me a couple of deliveries of fresh gazelle with a side of boar?

Andy: Erm, I’ll see what I can do.

Tiger: Right, so you’ve written a book of facts all about me. How did you find out the information?

Andy: I asked you.

Tiger: Oh yes, so you did. Have you talked to any other animals?

Andy: Indeed, the book features interviews with nine other beasts with claws. There was a lion…

Tiger: Never heard of it.

Andy: …A snow leopard…

Tiger: What! I hate leopards! They’re always pinching deer from my territory. Grrrr!

Andy: …A wolf…

Tiger: Daft dogs – all howl and no prowl.

Andy: …A polar bear…

Tiger: Don’t like bears either. They smell.

Andy: …A jaguar…

Tiger: What, you interviewed a car? This book is so weird.

Andy: No, it’s a big cat. Not as big as you, of course, but capable of killing a crocodile. They live in South America.

Tiger: Whatever. So, this book about me… why would anybody be interested in it?

Andy: Well, it tells people lots about tigers, it’s funny, and it has superb pictures by Nick East, the brilliant illustrator.

Tiger: Is he a human like you?

Andy: Erm, yes, I think he is.

Tiger: He’s not one of those poachers is he? Wants to shoot me for my skin and claws?

Andy: No, Nick’s a very nice man. Like me he thinks people should look after tigers, not destroy them.

Tiger: Good, I like him. I still might eat him, but I like him.

Andy: The book has some pages about ways that young people can help protect endangered animals.

Tiger: Quite right too. Good. One last question: how do you skinny little humans mark your territory? Do you spray urine or leave doo-doo markers? I’m thinking poo.

Andy: No, er, we use privet hedges.

Tiger: You pee on those?

Andy: You know what, I think we should end the interview there. Thank you, Mrs Bengal Tiger!

Tiger: Strange man…

Thank you to Andy and err Tiger for this fascinating interview…

Blog Tour

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

Thank you to Lorraine and Welbeck for inviting me to join in with the blog tour and for sending me a gifted copy of the book. ‘Interview with a Tiger & Other Clawed Beasts Too,’ 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 Monsters of Rookhaven – Pádraig Kenny, illustrated by Edward Bettison

‘The Monsters of Rookhaven,’ by Pádraig Kenny, illustrated by Edward Bettison is quite simply one of the most breath-taking and thoughtful novels that I have read in a very long time. Mirabelle lives with family, protected from the eyes of the world by the glamour. They are not the most usual of families, in fact if you were ever to accidentally stumble across them, you might actually think that they are monsters. And when orphans Jem and Tom spot a hole in their world they are terrified by what they discover. Haunting screams from the basement, shape shifting bears and carnivorous flowers await them in this dark and sinister place. But when Jem strikes up an unlikely friendship with Mirabelle, the girl who never ages she soon realises that the real monsters are not those within the walls of the gothic mansion but those who would seek to destroy them because they are filled with fear and suspicion.

Páidraig has created a truly extraordinary story filled with a rich darkness and not in the way you would expect. If you think of monsters, you imagine desperate creatures determined to destroy you, not these nuanced characters who are just trying to find a way to live their lives peacefully. The darkness in the story comes not from the ‘monsters’, but from the thoughts inside people’s minds who are damaged and broken after a horrific World War which has left its mark on all members of the community. It highlights very clearly how easy it is for hatred and distrust to be built up by individuals who cast doubt in what you’ve always believed in. Thematically it feel relevant to the world we live in today and how easily vulnerable members of society can easily become the target for others fears and frustrations with their lives. You might think it’s strange that I see Mirabelle and her family as vulnerable despite their apparent strength and hold over their neighbouring town but their lives are bound by an uneasy truce which takes very little influence to be totally destroyed. The characterisation is flawless, I have a particular fondness for Piglet who is completely consumed by what he knows about others, which finds him banished and feared by everyone. Exquisitely produced, Edward’s sublime illustrations capture perfectly the darkness and drama of this story unfolding in the most stunning of ways.  This book is truly incredible. Hauntingly, beautiful, I  just can’t stop thinking about it.

You can read an extract from this stunning story where Mirabelle meets Jem and Tom for the first time…

 The Monsters of Rookhaven Extract

Blog Tour

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

Thank you to Jo and Macmillan for inviting me to join in with the blog tour. You can buy, ‘The Monsters of Rookhaven,’ now online or from any good bookshop. If you can please support your local independent bookshop, you can find your nearest one here.

Elsetime – Eve McDonnell, illustrated by Holly Ovenden

Today on the blog I am delighted to share with you, Eve McDonnell’s debut, ‘Elsetime.’ Inspired by the Great Flood of London, this original and captivating story tells the tale of Glory and Needle, whose lives become inextricably bound when they realise they share the same pet crow. Shards of a plaque warns of a great danger to Glory and many others. Can they find a way to come to terms with the seemingly impossible truth and change the future to save everyone. This is a compelling and fascinating story that completely had me hooked from the opening page. Cleverly written and wonderfully executed it is an absolute joy to read. The characterisation is superb, she has created the most intriguing individuals in Glory and Needle who are both dealing with immense difficulties and sadness in their lives. She conjures up the place of Inthington superbly with the most rich and vivid descriptions, that makes you feel like you’ve been transported there. I have to mention Holly Ovendon’s stunning cover and illustrations which capture the mysterious and dark elements of the story wonderfully. Without wishing to give anything away, the surprise twist in the story was just marvellous and I totally didn’t see it coming. A truly extraordinary debut that I absolutely loved, Eve is definitely one to watch out for!

To celebrate the release of, ‘Elsetime,’ I have a special guest post from Eve…

Needle Luckett’s Colour Wheel – Eve McDonnell

A few years ago, a young boy digging the muddy foreshore for treasures sprung into my mind. His name was Needle, and he wanted to tell me his story. To dip my toe in, I opened up a clean page and began to write – I could see him in my mind, clear as day, using the long nail on his little finger to hook something sparkling from the mud. As he pulled the treasure out of the gloopy mud, the mud did its best to hang on to it until it finally relented. It made a slurpy-popping-snappy sound and, try as I might, I found it hard to describe it. I decided I would simply spell the sound out – SCH-M-OCK! But then, just to be clear, the treasure-hunting boy in my head insisted that the sound was ‘purple’. Of course it was purple! Now that I knew it, it could never have been anything else!

I didn’t write any further that day, but I was very happy – I had the beginnings of Elsetime and I had learned something very special about my new character: Needle was able to hear sounds in colour! This is a thing called Synaesthesia – a fascinating condition where senses such as sight and sound are cross-wired, enabling Needle to see colour when he hears sound.

Brown clouds burst into Needle’s head when he hears horse-hoofs clopping, the clunk of a key in a lock brings ruby red, and when the river roars, Needle’s mind is drowned out by a blackness. He sees a bubble of white when he presses the delicate top of a centuries old thimble and it goes pop! Needle would be quick to tell you that words themselves have colour too, but it is how they are said that dictates the colour he sees: thimble is a finger-nail pink word, but say it like you hate it and his head will fill with red. His favourite colour, of course, is yellow – if he hears your words in yellow, it means you are happy, and that makes him happy too.

Synaesthesia is a fascinating subject that affects up to 4% of the population (that could be one person in every classroom!) and there are 165 different types. Sometimes, people do not even know that they have a form of Synaesthesia because that is the way things have always been for them, so I must admit I was very surprised to learn that I have an unusual form too, with cross-wired sight and touch: if I witness someone falling, I feel a nasty tingle, much like an electric shock! Some people have a form of Synaesthesia where they associate each letter of the alphabet or each day of the week with a different colour. I certainly know my Monday mornings are not a jolly yellow! And perhaps the most curious of them all, some synesthetes can even taste words – what would the word Elsetime taste of, I wonder?

Thank you to Eve for this insightful and informative guest post.

Blog Tour

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

Thanks to Laura and Everything With Words for inviting me to join in with the blog tour and for sending me a gifted copy of the book. ‘Elsetime,’ 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 Nine Lives of Furry Purry Beancat by Philip Ardagh, illustrated by Rob Biddulph

Regulars to the blog will know I’m a huge fan of illustrated, young fiction so I’m excited to share with you a brand new series, ‘The Nine Lives of Furry Purry Beancat,’ written by Philip Ardagh and illustrated by Rob Biddulph. Featuring the fabulous feline, Furry Purry Beancat who likes nothing better than a catnap. Now that’s not too extraordinary you will be thinking, except this particularly purry cat is slightly different than your average kitty. When she wakes up she finds herself in a different one of her nine lives. In the first adventure, ‘The Pirate Captain’s Cat we join her on the high seas, where she must help the Captain and his crew in an epic battle. Can she use all her cunning to save the day? ‘The Railway Cat,’ finds her caught up in an intriguing mystery featuring spies and secrets, can she find out what is happening before it’s too late? Lively and entertaining these are the perfect reads for independent readers looking to get stuck into marvellous adventures. Rob’s fabulously, fun illustrations capture all the drama and excitement of the adventures brilliantly. I predict these will be a big hit at school!

To celebrate the release of this new series, I have a special guest post from their author Philip Ardagh…

The Importance of Sharing Stories – Philip Ardagh

Ever since people could talk, they’ve been sharing stories. Maybe even before then. Maybe they drew pictures in the earth with sticks or made shadow puppets with their hands from the light of a fire thrown up on a cave wall. Stories are a way of sharing the images in your head.

In the thousands of years before the invention of writing, stories (and pictures) were an ideal way of sharing information, giving warnings, and offering advice for a whole variety of situations. Of trying to make sense of the Sun in the sky and of death and disasters.

Fall into a snake pit and survive and your tips on how you saved yourself may come in handy for someone else one day. Turn the event into a memorable and exciting story and people will tell it and tell it and tell it and the story will spread far and wide.

And stories told this way can change with each telling.

Every storyteller can add their own style to a tale, a dash of humour, a flash of the dramatic, or even by introducing their familiar signature character who, in the mouth of another storyteller, may take on a life of their own. Tales of bravery can be attributed to one hero, not many; can be unified as quests of King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table or to Norse Gods or Irish heroes, or even become a tale told on one of the thousand-and-one Arabian nights. Add a rhyme or a once-upon-a-time, and the stories themselves can become familiar friends as they trip off the tongue.

Stories can bring people together. Give them a sense of belonging. Stories can give hope to the oppressed in hard times. They can strengthen bonds and create culture.

In the days before gas or electric light, the length of days were dictated by daylight hours, and firelight. After sundown, there was little more one could do than sit around a fire and eat and drink and talk or tell tales. Storytelling was a way of coming together and, in the hands – or mouth – of a good storyteller, looking forward the next adventure or the continuation of the previous night’s. Fires became guttering candles, then oil lamps.

Stories were a way of expressing what was usually never expressed, by putting evil thoughts into the mouths of monsters rather than, humans or expressing fears that ‘brave men’ felt but were too afraid to express for fear of showing weakness, but which heroes could speak and still be seen as godlike.

Then came writing.

Today, a story can be shared by someone who’s never even met the storyteller. In fact, the storyteller may well live thousands of miles away or may even have died hundreds of years before their story comes alive in your hands as you take in each word off the page. No wonder people saw the alphabet – these marks on the papyrus, velum or parchment – as something magical and full of power. Reading and writing really IS magic.

And written-down stories don’t change with the telling. They are what they are: carefully shaped and reshaped by the author – with our without assistance – until they finally appear on the printed page. And today we can sit in front of a fire roaring in the hearth, or by a radiator to keep warm and a light on overhead, and take in a tale at the pace we want, going back when we want to, pausing at the pictures…

…and being read TO is so precious, too. It’s a pleasure we should never have to grow out of; be EXPECTED to grow out of. Someone else holding the book and reading out the words while you listen is one of the great pleasures in life: a very personal and sharing moment. You’re never too old to be read to.

I love to write, to share stories. I love to read to share stories, and I love being read to to share stories. This way we can all see the world through other people’s eyes; walk in other people’s shoes; look at the world from different perspectives; to find ourselves in books or who we’d like to be; to face fears; share laughter; to enter words of pure imagination or startling realism.

Books and stories really are wormholes to everywhere, and we should all be ready and eager to jump in

(c) Philip Ardagh, September 2020 All Rights Reserved.

Thanks to Philip for this really thoughtful guest post on the importance of sharing stories, something that is very important to my heart.

The first two books in, ‘The Nine Lives of Furry Purry Beancat,’ are 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. Thanks to Eve and Simon and Schuster for inviting me to host this guest post and for sending me gifted copies of these books.

A Snowflake of Silver – Laura Wood

When an early copy of Laura Wood’s, ‘A Snowfall of Silver,’ arrived on my doorstep I was absolutely thrilled. Despite wanting to devour this immediately I restrained myself because Laura’s stunning writing deserves to be savoured and not devoured in greedy gulps. So I waited patiently for a day when I would have uninterrupted time so I could completely lose myself in the pages and not be distracted by day to day demands. Laura takes us back to the characters we first met in the glorious, ‘A Sky Painted Gold,’ but this time it’s Lou’s younger sister Freya, who takes centre stage in the story. I knew from the opening scene that Freya would completely steal my heart when she plans a daring escape to London in the middle of the night to pursue her dreams. Freya longs to be an actress and is convinced that leaving the confines of Cornwall and running away to the hustle and bustle of London is the only answer. But London is far more complicated than Freya expects and it looks like her dreams are over before they’ve even begun until a chance encounter with Kit gives her what seems like the opportunity of a lifetime, the chance to join a theatrical company on a tour. Freya is determined to fully embrace every moment of this adventure but life and love doesn’t always turn out in the way we expect.

Without wishing to sound too much like Freya, nothing I write in this blog will every truly capture how beautiful and dreamy this story is and how much I adore it. Laura has this enviable talent of effortlessly transporting the reader to this different time and place, allowing you to fully immerse yourself in this wonderful experience. I loved the internal struggles Freya feels as she tries to understand what love is and how her life should be. All she knows of love has been found in books and as we watch her coming of age quite beautifully we feel her confusion and pain most viscerally. Her innocence and naivety is charming and enchanting, it’s intriguing to see the world through the eyes of this girl who has lived such a sheltered existence. She can’t comprehend why the exceptionally talented Viola is restricted to regional theatre until she realises that the comments about her exotic looks are not meant in a kind way. Seeing it through her eyes makes it feel more shocking especially when almost ninety years later it feels in some ways like very little has changed. Her initial shock at seeing Nora’s relationship with other women, is tempered by her absolute acceptance of something that wasn’t even considered as actually existing at this time. I love how Laura weaves these reflections on society in what is ultimately a wonderfully romantic story.

Intricate and richly detailed, I loved the shabbiness of behind the scenes life compared to the apparent glitz and glamour of the stage. You could visualise the stunning costumes but then see the hours of painstaking work that goes into them, the tiny invisible stitches that no one could possibly see in the audience. The grubby and rundown boarding  houses versus the opulence of the hotels that the leading cast member and producer stay in. Despite this you can’t help but be drawn into their world and envy their freedom and experiences as they explore the country. I particularly loved the scenes where they became stranded and transformed something disappointing and mundane into the most spectacular and divine time.  But I’ve said more than enough and now I must invite you the reader to step inside and be swept away in the most sublime and stunning story.

Thanks to Harriet and Scholastic for sending me a gifted copy. ‘A Snowfall of Silver,’ is released on the 1st October and is available to pre-order now online or from any good bookshop. If you can support your local independent bookshop please do, you can find your nearest one here.

Oi Aardvark! – Kes Gray & Jim Field

As as a school librarian I’m lucky enough to get to share stories with all of the children in my school every week. For me the perfect picture book for sharing has to have certain qualities, it needs to be engaging enough to read out loud – some picture books definitely work better shared between two people rather than a whole room full of children. The illustrations have to be fun and eye-catching, so that children will be transfixed to the pages and not distracted by everything going on all around them. One of my absolute favourite go to books for reading aloud is anything in the fabulous, ‘Oi,’ series written by Kes Gray and illustrated by Jim Field. Every time I think they can’t possibly make the next book in the series funnier, then book along comes another one which astounds me with it’s downright nonsense and hilariousness.

Frog has a brilliant plan to create an Alphabetty Botty Book featuring all the animals he hasn’t told where to sit, all the way from A to Z. Cat is full of glee convinced frog is finally going to get his comeuppance, there’s no way he’ll manage all that but as we know with frog, where there’s a will there’s a way. The latest addition to the collection, ‘Oi Aardvark,’ is a masterpiece of silliness and comedy genius. I can just imagine Jim’s face as he looks at the wild and wacky combinations that Kes creates and tries to get his head around what a pangolin sitting on a mandolin will look like. He brings to life these bizarre and wonderful pairings with bold and humorous illustrations that really capture children’s imaginations. I can’t wait to share this with the children at school, I love how the anticipation builds through the book whipping the children up into a frenzy of excitement as they eagerly wait for the page to turn and see what comes next. This series is a guaranteed giggles creator, it’s an absolute triumph and, ‘Oi Aardvark!,’ is just downright marvellous.

Blog Tour

Why not join in with the full alphabetical blog tour for more frog fun…

Thanks to Lucy and Hachette for inviting me to join in with the blog tour and for sending me a gifted copy of this hilarious book. ‘Oi Aardvark!’ 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 Silver Arrow – Lev Grossman, illustrated by Tracy Bishop

Today I’m inviting you to step aboard a magical and thrilling ride, in Lev Grossman’s, ‘The Silver Arrow,’ illustrated by Tracy Bishop. When Kate writes to her ridiculously rich uncle to ask for a birthday present, the very last thing she expects to receive is a life-sized train. Her parents insist that it must go back after a week and Kate is furious that they have ruined her birthday. But that’s not the only surprise her uncle has instore for her because this is a very special type of train, one that will take her on the most magical and unforgettable journey. A journey where she’ll meet rare and wonderful animals who have been waiting a long time to return home. Wildly inventive and filled with the most wonderful details that children will absolutely love – who wouldn’t want to travel on a train with a library and a candy carriage – allowing them to be swept away and filled with wonder at what they discover on this journey. But this is more than a magical tale. At the heart of this story are important issues looking at the crucial role of conservation and examining the harmful impact consumerism has on our planet and it’s creatures. It thoughtfully explores these in an accessible way allowing children to think about the wider world. Exquisitely produced with beautiful illustrations this book is an absolute feast for the imagination.

To celebrate the release of this magical book, I have a sneak peek of one of the interior illustrations by Tracy Bishop and an extract…

When Kate got to the dining car, she was amazed to see the other animals from the library – the fishing cat, the green snake, and the heron – all sitting around a table together, chatting away like old friends.

Apparently they’d bonded over the baby pangolin.

He was still asleep, but they’d made a nest for him in a fruit bowl. They were cooing over him and taking turns stroking him.

“Everything all right?” the heron said.

“Fine. No thanks to any of you.” The porcupine was impressively unruffled by his confrontation with the boar. Kate supposed that getting into fights with people was probably something that happened to him on a fairly routine basis. “How’s the baby?”

“Fantastic! This is absolutely the cutest non-

Heron baby I have ever seen!”

“Shh!” the snake hissed. “You’ll wake him.”

Kate still found herself putting as much distance as politeness would allow between herself and the snake.

“How do you know he’s a him?” Kate said.

All the animals stared at her.

“She can’t tell,” the snake hissed.

“It must be an animal thing,” said the heron.

“Humans are animals,” Kate said a little defensively.

“Of course you are,” the fishing cat said. “But you’ve spent so much time pretending you’re not, you’ve lost the knack.”

The heron tactfully changed the subject. “Did you know that baby pangolins are called pangopups?” she said.

“That’s a stupid name,” the snake hissed.

“They should call them pangolings,” the fishing cat said. “Or pangolini!”

“Baby porcupines are called porcupettes,” the porcupine said with a shudder of disgust. “I don’t see why humans think they get to name everything. They’re not even very good at it. Electric eels – they’re not even eels. In Australia there’s a spider called a sparklemuffin!”

“And what about hellbenders?” the snake said.

“Do they bend hell? Not even slightly.”

“I wish I were called a hellbender,” the cat said. “It’s such a wonderful name. Wasted on a salamander.”

Blog Tour

Climb aboard on this international blog tour which takes you around the world on an adventure with, ‘The Silver Arrow,’ featuring more extracts, sneak peek illustrations and reviews…

Thank you to Jade and Bloomsbury for inviting me along this exciting ride and for sending me a gifted copy. ‘The Silver Arrow,’ is available to buy now online and from any good bookshop. If you can please support your local independent bookshop you can find the nearest one here.

Fire Boy – J. M. Joseph

Today I’m kicking off the blog tour for J.M. Joseph’s explosive debut, ‘Fire Boy.’ This high octane and exciting story begins when Aidan receives a mysterious package of sweets in the post which changes him and his friends in the most unexpected of ways. But the package was never intended for him and a criminal mastermind is determined to hunt Aidan and the sweets down. Can Aidan and his friends outwit this fiendish villain before it’s too late? J.M. has assembled a brilliant cast of characters from Aidan’s gruesome grandma to the super smart and sassy Sadie, they bring the story to life wonderfully. It contains all the perfect elements for great storytelling, a dastardly villain, an uncontrollable super power and plenty of twists and turns to keep the reader turning the pages. A laugh-out-loud adventure full of thrills and spills which is bound to entertain comic and superhero fans.

I have a special guest post from J.M. Joseph about comics and how they inspired him when he was writing, ‘Fire Boy.’

KAPOW! – J.M. Joseph

I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania. My father was a lawyer who, when I was a boy, sometimes took me with him on visits to clients. I rarely got further than their parlour or waiting room – which was far enough for me, thank you very much, when we visited the city prison – and was given a book to keep me quiet.

One exception was a barber who had a shop near my Grandmother’s house. When my dad met with him, it was in the barbershop. Those visits were brilliant. While the barber sat in his chair and gave out about his soon-to-be ex-wife, I busied myself with the comics he kept stacked on short tables inside his shop. After one rather long sessions with my dad, the barber said, ‘Hey, kid. You like comics? There’s a box of them in the backroom I was going to throw out. You want them?’

I did.

He returned with the biggest stash of comics I had ever seen. All of them were worn, dog-eared and a few years out-of-date, but for a seven year-old boy, it was like I had hit the lottery. I couldn’t wait to get them home.

Inside the crate he gave me were Batman and Spiderman comics I knew well, and many I didn’t. There was high school Americana in Archie where children with names like Jughead and Betty drove around in jalopies and slurped ice cream sodas. There was Ben Grimm aka The Thing in The Fantastic Four shouting ‘It’s clobberin’ time!’ There was the ghoulish Tales from the Crypt, a comic which I only dared read during daylight hours and the bare-knuckled True Crime which frankly terrified me (aged 7) with its accounts of gangster killings and break-ins. I met old heroes like the Phantom and Sgt.Rock and new ones like Scarlet Witch and Wolverine.

I wore my hair short for the next few years – more haircuts meant more trips to our barber so I could badger him for the comics he wanted to get rid of. In time, two more bundles arrived, smelling of hair oil and Brylcreeme, which I immediately read and re-read. I searched their panels for hidden clues. I poured over their “Letters to the Editor” page to hear what other like-minded souls thought of past issues. I read plenty of other books too, but comic books I studied.

There were some drawbacks. Because our barber didn’t read comics himself (with the possible exception of True Crime, which reeked of cigarettes and arrived with pages dotted with coffee rings), he had no allegiances. He bought Captain America one month, the Hulk the next. Two Justice Leagues of America would be followed by a Donald Duck. It was almost as if our barber handed money to a newsagent and said, ‘Surprise me,’ when it came to buying comics. It did, I confess, drop him down a notch or two in my estimation. True comic lovers don’t sleep around. We find our superheroes and stick by them.

The other problem was continuity. In the very first stash of comics I received, there were three Spidermans (my favourite). None of the issues were in sequence which left me trying to figure out how Peter Parker who was living with Aunt May in the January issue, had a new roommate and flat by the July edition, who then turned out to be the son of the Green Goblin in September. This wasn’t easy. Restrict yourself to episodes 1, 4 and 7 in a season of Breaking Bad or Succession and you’ll see what I mean. There’s a lot happening, but you’re not terribly sure why. Still, I couldn’t complain. When a new stack of comics would come home, I would start by selecting my favourites (I grew up in the golden age of Marvel, so their comics always came first) and put them in order (if possible) before rifling through the others.

Years later when I came to write my first novel, Fire Boy, those comics were my inspiration. I wanted to re-create the fun I had reading them so I needed heroes who didn’t take themselves seriously, a rattling adventure that zigged and zagged and memorable characters who each possessed a distinctive voice.

As for my barber, he skipped town on wintry day when I was ten. I found out later that he owed money to everyone (including my father) and was on the run. I was sorry to see him go, and not just because of the comics, though it did mean I could start wearing my hair longer. I often imagined him boarding a bus to Philadelphia whenever we passed the shuttered windows of his barbershop. His suitcase would be stuffed with aproned shirts, clippers, brushes, combs and a copy of True Crime magazine.

Thanks to J.M. Joseph for this really interesting guest post. Thank you to Dom and Hachette for inviting me to join in with the blog tour and for sending me a gifted copy. ‘Fire Boy,’ 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

Blog Tour

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

Summer Holiday Reads

The school holidays is usually a time for me to try and tackle my overflowing review pile without the distraction of work, school and numerous after school activities. Normally there are only a few titles published in August and September but this year has seen lots of books pushed back into the Autumn schedule resulting in a huge number of books due for release in the next month or so. This makes it even more difficult to decide what books I can read and so in order to try and give as many as possible some space, I have included a brief round up of all the books I’ve read during the holidays that haven’t already featured on the blog. Hopefully there should be something for everyone in this selection. Enjoy!

Death Sets Sail – Robin  Stevens

From the moment Robin Stevens announced that in the final, ‘Murder Most Unladylike,’ adventure, ‘Death Sets Sail,’ only one of the the Detective Society members would make it home alive, I was desperate to read it. So when mine and my daughter’s copies arrived through the letterbox it was a competition to see who could finish it first. Obviously I had lots of dull adulting things to do at the same time, so I was pestered by my daughter on a hourly basis to finish it so she could discuss it with me. With a nod to Agatha Christie’s iconic, ‘Death on the Nile,’ we are transported to Egypt, one of the places that I find completely fascinating and after reading this I felt liked I’d been there myself. You can clearly see how Robin used her experiences to enrich the story for the reader. Aboard the SS SS Hatshepsut is a mysterious society called the Breath of Life: a strange organisation, who believe themselves to be reincarnations of the ancient pharaohs. When one of their members is found brutally murdered, it’s up to Daisy and Hazel to unravel this complex and dangerous case. I love how Daisy’s younger sister May Wong plays a vital role in this mystery, setting up perfectly for the next venture from Robin a new series featuring May in, ‘The Ministry of Unladylike Activity,’ coming in 2020. It’s difficult to say much about this book for risk of spoiling it for the reader, I can say is this is the absolute perfect finale. It celebrates all of the very best aspects of this brilliant series mixing superbly a mystery full of twists and turns and a turning point in Daisy and Hazel lives. It has been a real privilege to have been on a journey with them both and I’ve adored this series from start to finish. Bravo Robin Stevens, you have excelled yourself with, ‘Death Sets Sail.’

Kidnap on the California Comet – M.G. Leonard & Sam Sedgman, illustrated by Elisa Paganelli

M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman are back in another ‘Adventure on Trains,’ mystery in the fast paced and furious, ‘Kidnap on the California Comet.’ Following on from the success of solving the case of the missing jewels, Hal is thrilled to be invited to join his uncle, Nat, aboard the California Comet on a trip from Chicago to San Francisco. When one of the passengers, a billionaire’s daughter is kidnapped right before his eyes, Hal finds himself unintentionally caught up in another mystery. But something isn’t quite right, can he uncover the truth before the journey ends? This book was everything I hoped it would be, the ‘Adventure of Trains,’ series is fast becoming one of my favourite new mystery series. I love how the journey itself adds to the drama with time ticking away as you watch the scenery disappear into the distance knowing that the nearer you get to your destination, the less time you have to solve the mystery. The excitement of travelling aboard these exceptional trains is wonderfully compelling, Elisa Paganelli beautiful illustrations brings to life these magnificent machines superbly. I wish more middle grade adventures were illustrated, it definitely enhances the readers’ experience. Another thrilling and fabulous mystery that kept me guessing right to the dramatic end.

The Wild Way Home – Sophie Kirtley

I find time-slip adventures really appealing, so when I heard that ‘The Wild Way Home,’ would take us back to the Stone Age I was really intrigued. As a school librarian the pool of fiction titles that can be used to support this topic is quite limited, so I was excited at the prospect of a new addition to this collection. Charlie has been excited about the prospect of having a sibling after a very long wait but is devastated when his baby brother is born with a serious heart condition. Confused and upset by all of the conflicting feelings, Charlie flees to a place of comfort, the ancient forest. But when Charlie finds a boy injured in the river, everything changes in an instant. Realising there has been a dramatic shift in the world, Charlie must find a way to help this boy in order to get home. Sophie’s beautiful descriptive writing is wonderfully engaging allowing the reader to have a strong sense of this new and mysterious world where everything is different whilst looking almost the same. This sense of confusion and discomfort mirrors the feelings Charlie is experiencing. I particularly enjoyed the friendship between Charlie and Harby as they come to terms with this strange event that they are both caught up in. A really interesting read that would make for a perfect spark for inspiring children to write about this fascinating historical time.

Mima Malone and the Mad Bad Inventor – Kate Poels

Strange and mysterious things are happening to the children in Mima Malone’s school and the grown ups have absolutely no idea what is going on. Webbed feet, hair loss and mouths turning completely blue seem very out of the ordinary and Mima together with the help of her friends is determined to get to the bottom of this mystery. But with so many adults behaving suspiciously and the school bully moving in next door, it’s proving to be extremely tricky. Kate has assembled a brilliant cast of characters who bring this story to life, I’m particularly drawn to dastardly villains and these are perfectly bad. I think the mystery element is very satisfying with clues that are nicely scattered throughout the story allowing the reader to piece them all together and help find the mad and bad culprit.  Fabulously fun, it’s perfect for mystery lovers looking for a hilarious and madcap adventure that will make them laugh out loud. I really hope we get to see more from Mima Malone!

 

The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker – Lauren James

Lauren James is an essential part of my most loved shelves. Her ability to create stories that are truly incredible never ceases to amaze me and ‘The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker,’ is another stellar addition to her repertoire. Harriet Stoker inadvertently crashes into the afterlife when she decides to explore a derelict and apparently haunted building, the site of an unexplained death of a group of students at her university. She quickly realises that death is just the beginning as she meets the ghostly inhabitants of the former halls of residence who all have magical powers. Welcomed into their world, the ghost are keen to make friends with Harriet but she wants more than friendship, she wants power. She needs to get back to her frail grandmother and is willing to sacrifice anything to get her own way. But there is a mysterious force at work, a force beyond Harriet’s control. Even when you’re dead, the afterlife can be a dangerous place to live. Lauren yet again manages to surprise and astound the reader with the most unexpected of twists which disturb the very foundations of everything you held up to be the truth.  A truly compelling and extraordinary story that dazzled me with its brilliance.

When Secrets Set Sail – Sita Brahmachari

When two girls lives are thrown together when Usha’s family adopts Imtiaz, they are both convinced they will never be friends let alone sisters. Fiery Imtiaz clashes with the quiet and solemn Usha, who is desperately grieving the loss of her beloved grandma. But the girls are forced to put their dislike of each other aside when their family home is threatened. A surprise visitor sends a message that they must right a wrong from the past and reveal the hidden secrets long buried to save their home. This is an intriguing and fascinating read which shines a spotlight on a past that has ramifications still today. It looks at the way the Ayahs –  who were brought from India to be nannies –  were treated shamefully. I like how this was explored by the girls delving through history and putting together the pieces of this mystery and gradually revealing the truth that had been hidden away in their home. A beautiful and timely tale of family, friendship and loss that completely surprised and delighted me .

Thanks to Bloomsbury, Macmillan, Orion and Walker for the NetGalley proofs of these titles. You can buy these books online now (click on the title) or from any good bookshop. If possible please support your local independent bookshop you can find the nearest one here.

 

 

The Key To Finding Jack – Ewa Jozefkowicz, illustrated by Katy Riddell

Today I am delighted to share with you, ‘The Key to Finding Jack,’ by Ewa Jozefkowicz, illustrated by Katy Riddell. Regular readers of the blog will know I’m a huge fan of mystery stories so was drawn to this book when I heard about it and it completely surprised me by being totally unexpected with the problem that had to be solved. Flick’s big brother Jack has gone missing in Peru after an earthquake devastates the region he’s in nobody is able to locate him. Seeking solace in his room, Flick find a small key with a note attached for a mysterious figure, ‘S.F.’ Who is S,F and could they hold the key to finding the truth about where Jack has gone to on his travels? Flick discovers on her search for the truth that Jack is more than just the family prankster, in fact he has so many layers to himself that he’s kept hidden from his family. I was absolutely struck by just how much I loved this book, for this is much more than a story about a missing boy and a strange key. It’s a story of family, friendship and finding your place in the world even when others don’t approve. Brimming with warmth and filled with heart, it is a joyful and life affirming tale that entirely charmed me.

To celebrate the release of this wonderful book, I have a special guest post from Ewa on her favourite mystery books…

My Top 5 Mystery Books – Ewa Jozefkowicz

The Key to Finding Jack is the story of Flick, whose brother Jack has gone missing during an earthquake in Peru, where he was travelling during his gap year. In London, Flick finds a key which he used to wear around his neck. Next to it is a note with the words ‘For S.F. to keep until I’m back.’ Who is S.F.? And can they help solve the mystery of his location? Flick makes it her mission to find out.

The search takes her on a journey of discovery about Jack. It begins with her making a list of all the S.Fs that Jack knew, followed by carefully scheduled visits to each of them. And so, Flick meets with an eclectic bunch of people who share these initials, from her own grandmother, through Jack’s music teacher and the owner of the corner shop at which her brother used to work. Every visit reveals something about her brother which she never knew, and she slowly pieces together what proves to be an unexpected puzzle.

I really enjoyed writing this story, as I’m a big fan of mysteries with their step-by-step unravelling of clues, false leads, and twists and turns in the plot. I have enjoyed and been inspired by many children’s mystery stories. Here are five of my favourites:

The London Eye Mystery – Siobhan Dowd

This is a fantastic story of Salim who seemingly disappears while travelling on the London Eye. His cousins overcome their differences to try and follow clues across the city which might lead them to Salim.

Dustbin Baby – Jacqueline Wilson

Dustbin Baby is centred on April, who, as a baby, was abandoned in a dustbin by her mother  and who goes on a journey to try to piece together her past.

Skellig – David Almond

This is the beautiful tale of a boy who finds an angel-like creature living in his garage and attempts to solve the mystery of who Skellig is and how to set him free.

The Girl Who Thought Her Mother Was a Mermaid – Tanya Unsworth

Here, the memorable main heroine Stella, is convinced her mother is a mermaid and decides to find out once and for all whether she’s right.

Emil and the Detectives – Eric Kastner

A great detective story set in 1920s Berlin, which has stood the test of time. Emil’s money is stolen during a train journey, which leads to a lengthy and exciting investigation into the identity of the thief.

Blog Tour

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

Thank you to Fritha and Zephyr Books for inviting me to join in with the blog tour and for sending me a gifted copy of the book. ‘The Key to Finding Jack,’ is available to buy now online and from any good bookshop. If you can please support your local independent bookshop you can find the nearest one here.