A Room Full of Chocolate – Jane Elson

After devouring the fabulous ‘Swimming to the Moon’ by Jane Elson in one sitting, I was eager to get my hands on another of her books. Constantly on loan in my school library the chances of me getting to read one of Jane’s books from there was incredibly slim. So when our lovely local indie bookshop P & G Wells visited out school for a book fair in World Book Day week I decided to treat myself to a copy  of ‘A Room Full of Chocolate’ and I am so glad that I did. I was planning to save it for the Easter holidays but the lure of this book was irresistible and I find myself grabbing it from my ‘to be read’ pile knowing that Jane’s exquisite storytelling was exactly what I needed on that day.

When Grace is sent to live with her estranged Granddad while her mum goes into hospital it turns her life upside down and not for the better. Forced to move school and leave her friends behind, the thought of being sent to the middle of nowhere with a Granddad she doesn’t know fills Grace with horror. Soon Grace misses her mum so much it hurts – not even chocolate makes her feel better. But when she befriends the effervescent Megan and her naughty pig Claude, a small ray of hope enters her life giving her the courage to face whatever may lie ahead.

This truly magical story about the power of friendship in the darkest of times is just beautiful. An empathetic and moving read, it explores the difficulties Grace, her Mum and her Granddad feel when fate deals them a horrible blow. Kept in the dark about her Mum’s illness Grace struggles to make sense of the world around her, confused and lonely, her pain at not knowing what is going on radiates through the pages. It is her friendship with Megan that saves her, giving her the strength and she needs to survive without her Mum . The bond between them is strengthened by the knowledge that their Mums were the very best of friends and brings comfort to Grace. Jane really gets to the heart of her characters allowing the readers to really feel their raw emotions and internal struggles, taking you along on this emotional journey with them. Wonderfully compelling you can’t help but find yourself caught up in Grace’s life, wishing her a happy ending despite the difficult circumstances. It made me laugh, cry and delight in equal measures, I can’t recommend it enough another brilliant novel from Jane Elson.

Alex Sparrow and the Really Big Stink – Jennifer Killick

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I’m a huge fan of funny books, for me I just can’t get enough to satisfy my need for laughter. I actively seek books that are genuinely hilarious, that make me laugh out loud and inwardly cringe. Thankfully ‘Alex Sparrow and the Really Big Stink’ delivers both of these in equal measures. Meet Alex Sparrow a super-agent in training, who has been on a mission since he was 4 years old to be an undercover, super spy by undertaking an extreme regime of mental and physical activities. Well that may just be a slight stretch of the truth! Okay it is in fact a ginormous lie! I’m not sure doing a hundred star jumps a day and chasing the mangy cat from next door out of your back garden quite fits that description but nevertheless Alex is adamant that he has what it takes to be a real life super agent. Unwittingly Alex’s conviction is tested when he acquires a unexpected and very smelly superpower which he must use to get to the bottom of some very unusual happenings at his school. Together with Jess – who can communicate with animals – they must find out why their friends – and enemies – are all changing into polite and well behaved pupils. And work out exactly who is behind it all.

Stuffed full of humour, mystery and the unexpected, this hilarious adventure is a laugh out loud extravaganza of a read. Alex and Jess make a formidable duo, who despite finding each other less than endearing are forced into an unlikely partnership to save their school from impending doom. For me it is the subtle humour scattered throughout the book that is a real triumph, making me chuckle the most. I love how Alex is so caught up in his secret-agent persona he likes to narrate the action unfolding – in his best secret-agent voice – even if this means he might blow their cover. Jess (or Jessticles as Alex likes to call her) is an absolute gem of a character. Moody, fierce and downright fearsome she refuses to be Alex’s sidekick, she won’t take any nonsense from Alex and their relentless bickering is a total joy.

Underlying this cracking plot we have a story that celebrates the importance of being unique and different, highlighting how disturbing it would be to live in a world (or in this case a school) full of children conforming and being the same. Alex learns the hard way how so called ‘friends’ can let you down in your time of need and that friendship can be found in the most surprising of places.  Packed to the gunnels with brilliant, comic moments –  my favourite involves Bob, Alex’s rather remarkable goldfish and a can of energy drink. – ‘Alex Sparrow’ is an irresistible combination of humour and heart. A truly impressive debut, Jennifer Killick is definitely one to watch out for.

Jennifer Killick

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Jennifer Killick has always wanted to be a writer, but really started when she applied for a Creative Writing MA at Brunel University, which is where she first got the idea for ‘The Really Big Stink’. She lives in Uxbridge, in a house full of children, animals and Lego. When she isn’t busy mothering or step-mothering (which isn’t often) she loves to read, write and run, as fast as she can. Jennifer’s favourite things are books, trees and fluffy slippers, and her favourite place in the world is her home, where she can sit in her pyjamas with tea and cake, coming up with story ideas.

You can find out more about Jennifer by visiting her website or follow her on Twitter @JenniferKillick

Thank you to Firefly Press for sending me a copy of this hilarious book.

Harper and the Night Forest – Cerrie Burnell & Laura Ellen Anderson

Today it’s my stop on the ‘Harper and the Night Forest’ blog tour with a review of this glorious book by Cerrie Burnell with illustrations by Laura Ellen Anderson. This happens to be my favourite ‘Harper’ book in the series because it captures the power of storytelling and the magic of fairy-tales beautifully . Harper and her friends are taken on another whirlwind adventure when they agree to help the Wild Conductor capture the enchanted Ice Raven. Determined to win his place back in the Circus of Dreams, he will stop at nothing to capture this mythical bird. When the children enter the forest they soon begin to discover that there are secrets hidden in these mysterious woods. Before long they realise the terrible consequences that would happen if the Ice Raven left the enchanted Night Forest for ever. Can they stop the Wild Conductor before it’s too late?

With wonderful characterisation and exquisite storytelling, Cerrie takes you on a journey to fantastical world where you discover fairy-tale keepers and an haunting unfinished fairy-tale of the Ice Raven and the Lone Wolf which is filled with sadness and loneliness. I love the incredible attention to detail that she uses to creates this magical world filled with clocks marking the moments fairy-tales began, a cottage filled with objects straight out of fairy-tales  – including a red cloak made of the same material as Harper’s umbrella – and stories carved into trees to keep them alive. Filled with the most interesting characters that give the story a richness and depth. Liesel is my absolute favourite, her obsession with fairy-tales and longing to be part of one  is just delightful. I love how she has no fear of falling down a chimney of a witch’s cottage or is thrilled to stumble upon a wolf in the forest, feeling disappointment when she realises it’s the enchanted prince. Laura’s illustrations are just divine capturing the spirit and excitement of the adventure that Harper and her friends find themselves in. I can imagine it must be incredibly challenging to capture such extraordinary objects as a ‘cloudian’ but Laura does this brilliantly.

This is a truly irresistible tale filled with magic and wonder, if you haven’t discovered Harper and her friends why not join them on this marvellous adventure.

Cerrie Burnell

Cerrie Burnell is a much-loved presenter on Cbeebies. She was named in the Observer’s top ten children’s presenters and also featured in the Guardian’s 2011 list of 100 most inspirational women where she received praise for tackling disability head on. Cerrie divides her time between London and Manchester. Her bestselling picture books Snowflakes and Mermaid, illustrated by Laura Ellen Anderson, have won critical acclaim. Magical adventure Harper and the Scarlet Umbrella is her first novel for young readers.

You can find out more by following Cerrie on Twitter @cerrieburnell

Laura Ellen Anderson

When she’s not trying to take over the world or fighting sock-stealing monsters, Laura Ellen Anderson is a professional children’s book author & illustrator, with an increasing addiction to coffee. She spends every waking hour creating & drawing and would quite like to live on the Moon when humans finally make it possible. 

You can find out more by following Laura on Twitter @Lillustrator or visiting her website.

Thank you to Faye and Scholastic for inviting me to join this blog tour and for sending me a copy of this truly special book.

Blog Tour

You can join in with the rest of the blog tour for more reviews and giveaways.

Monday 20th March

Bookish Outsider

A Daydreamer’s Thoughts

Tuesday 21st March

Book Lover Jo

Tales of Yesterday

Wednesday 22nd March

An Awfully Big Adventure

Luna’s Little Library

Thursday 23rd March

Live Otherwise

Big Book Project

Friday 24th March

Alejandra’s Life

Northern Plunder

Saturday 25th March

Library Girl and Book Boy

Sunday 26th March

Big Book Little Book

Mold and the Poison Plot – Lorraine Gregory

Lorraine Gregory’s debut ‘Mold and the Poison Plot’ is an absolute joy to read, filled with so much humour, bravery and heart, that you can’t help being enchanted by this magical tale. Meet Mold, a boy who was dumped by his Mum in a dustbin as a baby. An unusual boy who even the binmen didn’t want, not being  fair enough to sell at the rag market with his scraggy hair and huge nose. Luckily for him, old Aggy found him at the dump and took him under her wing. She harnesses his special gift of smell to find customers that need help, who he then sends to Aggy who sells them potions to remedy their ails. One day Mold’s life is turned upside down when Aggy is arrested, accused of poisoning the King with a special tonic. With no where else to turn, Mold must find a way to prove her innocence before it’s too late. But in a world filled with deadly baddies and hideous monsters how can he hope to succeed?

Lorraine has created this truly believable world of magic and mayhem in Pellegarno. It is magical realism at it’s very best, making you feel totally involved in the story as you’re transported into the heart of this new land. She manages to bring it to life in the most unexpected ways primarily through Mold and his nose, who take us with him on an perilous journey allowing us to gain an true insight into the lives of the people. His amazing power of smell helps him to understand individuals true character which comes in very handy when he’s trying to distinguish good from evil as he tries to complete his dangerous mission. In the case of the dark and menancing baddie – who has got Aggy and Mold mixed up in this terrible plot – he has an overwhelming disgusting pong that reveals his true nature and this helps to warn Mold when he is nearby. Your senses are tantalised as Mold travels beyond the comfort of his home to an unknown city in search of the truth, uncovering secrets along the way.

The characterisation in the story is just wonderful. Our young hero Mold is an unlikely but remarkable hero who has to face the most extreme adversity and trials to try and save Aggy from the hangman and his noose. Despite this he refuses to give up and his loyalty to her is wonderfully endearing and heart warming. Fergus has to be one of my most favourite characters, his unwavering enthusiasm –  having found a friend in Mold  – and  determination to support him in his endeavours is just incredible. I just can’t resist a despicable baddie and Lorraine satisfies my appetite with some truly menacing and loathsome individuals who go to incredible lengths to upset Mold’s attempts to rescue Aggy. An exciting and vibrant story filled with twists, turns and drama at every turn. Just when you think you know what is going to happen next, Lorraine manages to surprise you with this remarkable plot. A wonderful tale about friendship, loyalty and learning to accept yourself for who you are, I absolutely loved it.

Thank you to OUP for sending me a copy of this marvellous book. ‘Mold and the Posion Plot’ is released on May 4th and is available to pre-order from all good bookshops.

Evie’s Ghost – Helen Peters

‘Evie’s Ghost’ is a compelling time-slip tale from Helen Peters filled with mystery and suspense. When Evie is sent to the middle of nowhere to stay with her ancient godmother Anna, little does she know that this huge spooky stone mansion in the middle of nowhere, holds a dark secret. Evie discovers etched into a pane of glass in her bedroom, the words ‘Sophia Fane imprisoned here 27th April 1814’, which intrigues and terrifies her in equal measures. That night unable to sleep she hears a wailing noise and then a tap at the window, a strange ghostly figure appears beckoning Evie. Fleeing from the room in panic she opens the door only to discover that she is now a housemaid in 1814, arriving only a few days away before the date Sophia was locked up forever. Can she use all of her cunning to stop it happening again?

A wonderful historical novel which takes us on a journey back in time, to when the world was a very different place. Evie’s experience as a housemaid in the 1800s opens her eyes to the hardship and social inequalities of the time. In the present time not having access to a mobile phone or television seems unbearable to Evie,  but after spending hours scrubbing pots by hand her view begins to change. The treatment of Sophia appears barbaric but it serves to highlight the non-existent power that women had at this time, being seen as purely the property of their fathers or husbands. This may seems shocking to younger readers but I feel it’s really important for my daughter’s generation to realise the struggles women went through at this time. Friendship is at the heart of this story and Evie is only able to endure these horrendous conditions with the support of her fellow housemaid Polly. Whilst our first impressions of Evie maybe that she is spoilt and demanding, but her fierce determination to save Sophia no matter what it takes is truly admirable even if she risks losing everything in the process. I was totally gripped by this beautiful story, a really enjoyable and engaging read.

If you want to find out more, you can get a sneak peek of ‘Evie’s Ghost, as the first two chapters are now available on the Nosy Crow website.

 

Thank you to Nosy Crow books for sending my a copy of this beautiful book.

Can I Join Your Club – John Kelly & Steph Laberis

Today it’s my stop on the ‘Can I Join Your Club’ blog tour. This wonderful story from John Kelly with illustrations by Steph Laberis celebrates inclusivity and the importance of diversity and friendship. Duck wants to join a club, but everywhere he goes he is beset by problems. He can’t roar loudly enough to join Lion Club, he’s not clever enough to join Elephant Club and he definitely can’t hiss like a snake so his application to join Snake Club is denied. Feeling dejected and sad he sets up his own club which only has one critieria, ‘do you want to be in a club with me?’ A brilliant way to teach children how important it is not to exclude anyone from their friendship circle because they are different to them. Steph’s illustrations are bold and vibrant capturing perfectly the emotional rollercoaster Duck goes through as he tries to find a place where he fits in. This book would make a wonderful addition to any home or school, an absolute joy to behold.

I am delighted to share with you a special Q & A with the author of ‘Can I Join Your Club’ John Kelly. So without further ado here it is:

Can I Join Your Club? Q & A with John Kelly

Tell us what Can I Join Your Club? is about?

It’s about a duck who wants to make friends and thinks that he can do that by joining a club. Unfortunately the animals who run the clubs; lion, elephant, and snake, are very picky about who joins their particular club. To them duck isn’t enough like a lion, elephant, or snake to make the cut. In the end the dejected duck bypasses them all and forms his own club. His rules for entry are simple: “Do you want to be, in a club with me?” If the answer is “YES!”, you’re in! Duck’s club becomes very popular and, in the end, everyone wants to join; even lion, elephant, and snake.

What was the inspiration behind your book?

My books don’t ever end up where they started from. I will often begin with a completely different idea. And it’s not until quite late in the process, after lots of writing and drawing, that I realise that there’s actually a much better idea buried inside the one I began with. ‘Can I Join Your Club?’ started out being about a duck who was lost (he flew into a mountain, banged his head, and lost his memory). He couldn’t remember what kind of animal he was, so we went around asking other animals, “Am I a Lion? Elephant? Snake?” etc. The concept slowly morphed into animals having clubs, and then changed again as I realised it was opening up the issues of exclusivity and inclusivity.

Who is your favourite character in the book, apart from Duck?

Elephant. Definitely. He’s the one who’s most like me: A boring bookworm. Plus he’s funny looking and wears big glasses. I’m not as grey though and my nose is a teeny bit smaller.

If you could be in any club, what would it be?

I’m really not the kind of person who joins clubs. I’m a bit like the grumpy bear who lives deep in the forest and roars at anyone who comes close to their cave. Luckily my wife let me join her club, which is great fun. So I’m a bit less grumpy than I used to be. Though you might want to be a bit careful around the cave. But if I had to be in any club at all it would probably be ‘Dog Club’, because I love hanging around dogs.

Were you on any clubs as a child?

I think I was briefly in the cub scouts. But that’s it. I was a rubbish cub. I was in a lot of football teams when I was much much smaller though. Does that count?

What would your club motto be?

Grumpy bookworms need friends too. Just like ducks.

 

John Kelly

John  is an illustrator, writer and designer who has written and illustrated a variety of picture books, young fiction, graphic novels and non-fiction, He has been shortlisted twice for the Kate Greenaway prize and has helped create books for Lucasfilm and Pixar. Originally from the North East of England John now lives in South London.

You can find out more by visiting his website or follow him on Twitter @Tinckelly

Steph Laberis

Steph is an illustrator and character designer, based in San Francisco Bay area of California. She works in several fields, including publishing, TV & feature animation, toy design and licensing. Her love for art is rivalled only by her fascination with the animal kingdom. She also loves to travel, and next on her bucket list is visiting the Weihnactsmarkt in Germany!

You can find out more by visiting her website or follow her on Twitter @StephLaberis

Thank you to Beth and Little Tiger Press for sending me a copy of this fabulous book and inviting me to join the blog tour.

Just Call Me Spaghetti-Hoop Boy – Lara Williamson

It was with much excitement that I got my hands on a copy of Lara Williamson’s latest novel ‘Just Call Me Spaghetti-Hoop Boy’. For me Lara is a genuinely brilliant storyteller who crafts the most exquisite and poignant tales. Every time I read one of her books I fall totally in love with the characters and it’s her distinctive style of truth, warmth and humour that I find irresistible. Like ‘A Boy Called Hope’ and ‘The Boy Who Sailed the Ocean in an Armchair’ this book proves to be an absolutely compelling read. Be prepared to laugh, cry and have your heart broken by this wonderful story.

Meet Adam Butters, who is on a mission to be a superhero because, well, every one loves superheroes, they solve problems and make people happy. And in Adam’s complicated life he  desperately feels the need to make people happy. He doesn’t know why, but his Mum needs cheering up and perhaps if he was an actual superhero his real Mum would want to meet him. And he’s convinced she must have thought he would be super as he discovers she called him Ace – when he finds his birth certificate. But it’s not the easiest of superhero missions. Adam’s project doesn’t go exactly to plan after he makes a painful discovery but eventually he realises you don’t have to be super to be a hero.

Families are at the heart of all Lara’s stories and the family dynamic in this book is really interesting . We have his older sister Minnie who feels jealous about the amount of time Adam spends with their Dad, his Mum who is hiding a secret, a comic book obsessed Dad and Velvet the younger sister who drives everyone mad with her invisible dog called Sausage Roll. The family is under pressure and nobody knows exactly what is going on which causes misunderstanding and uneasiness amongst them. Lara examines the complexity of the relationship between an adopted child. their parents as well as their siblings. Illustrating how the need to discover more about their ‘real’ parents can sometimes be an overwhelming and uncontrollable desire. Once again Lara has assembled a magnificent cast of characters including one of my favourites the fantastic and not so small, Tiny Eric. Who (despite having his own troubles) works incredibly hard to get Adam to see that he is already great, just the way he is, because learning to accept yourself for who you are is really central to this story. A truly emotional and stunning read, this story left me with tears in my eyes and joy in my heart.

Thank you to Usborne for sending me a copy of this wonderful book.