New reviews: five great reads!

I’ve read some fantastic books over the last few weeks.  Here are my highlights of brilliant middle grade and YA reads which are available now, written by brilliant authors who know just how to get children and young people reading whether through fascinating facts, humour and adventure, teen romance or important issues.


The Secret Diary of Thomas Snoop Tudor Boy Spy by Philip Ardagh and illustrated by Jamie Littler

Thomas Snoop is in training to become a spy. Entrusted with a top secret mission by the mysterious Lord Severn, right-hand man to the Tudor king, Thomas must travel to the magnificent Goldenhilt Hall – in the guise of a servant – in order to uncover traitors plotting against the crown. It will take all Thomas’s wits and cunning to uncover the traitors lurking at Goldenhilt Hall – and he must do so without being discovered himself…

I’ve read and enjoyed the previous books in this series and this new book doesn’t disappoint. With Philip Ardagh’s trademark wit and hilarity, we discover all about Tudor times through the eyes of Thomas Snoop and his diary entries. Mystery abounds as Thomas attempts to complete his mission and uncover the dastardly treacherous villains who threaten to destroy English freedom! I love Jamie Littler’s illustrating style, complimenting the narrative with humorous takes on the larger than life characters.  Historical facts appear throughout the story, making Tudor Boy Spy informative and fun! This great series introduces history in an accessible way, encouraging young readers to think what life might have been like growing up in a different time period – with the added bonus of being really funny!

Philip Ardagh has written many children’s books and is best known for his Grubtown Tales for which he won the Roald Dahl Funny Prize.  Jamie Littler is an illustrator whose books include Hamish and the World Stoppers, a bestselling debut of 2015.

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The Chocolate Factory Ghost by David O’Connell illustrated by Clare Powellchoc ghost

Archie McBudge knows his lucky underpants must really work, because when he and his mum are summoned to Honeystone Hall in the remote Scottish village of Dundoodle, they find Archie has inherited not only the enormous hall, but the whole of the world-famous McBudge Confectionery Company from Great-Uncle Archibald. That’s a new home, a fortune and a lifetime’s supply of treats rolled into one! But all is not well in Dundoodle, and when Archie reads the mysterious letter his great-uncle left him, he finds himself on a quest to save his family’s company from ruin. With the help of his new friends Fliss and Billy, Archie has to try to figure out the puzzles of Honeystone before his sweet future melts away like an ice lolly in the sun!

I absolutely loved this story! Full of adventure, heart and humour I defy anyone to read this and not laugh out loud, whilst craving the wonderful fudge creations described. A fantastic balance of mystery, fantasy, devious villains and a trio of heroes, the plot keeps you guessing until the final pages. Set in the wilds of Scotland, the landscape springs to life and soon enough, Archie finds himself wading deeper into the secrets of Dundoodle. He makes a fine, hugely likeable hero ably supported by Fliss and Billy and you are rooting for them throughout. With strange creatures, relatives plotting revenge and of course, lots and lots of sugary treats, The Chocolate Factory Ghost really is a great middle grade read and definitely one of my favourites so far this year.

I read a proof copy of this book so haven’t seen the illustrations but if the cover is anything to go by I’m sure they’re fantastic! David O’Connell is a writer and illustrator from South London and works mostly in children’s books.  Claire Powell is an illustrator and designer whose short animation The Scapegoat won an award at the British Animation Film Festival 2015.

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how to bee.jpg

How to Bee by Bren MacDibble

How to Bee is set in a future where there are no bees and children are employed to scramble through the fruit trees with feather wands.  Peony wants to be a bee, a hand pollinator; she’s light, she’s fast, and even though she’s a year too young, she’s going to be the best bee the farm has ever seen…except when you’re only nine years old it’s hard to get everyone around you to go along with your plan.

How to Bee is a compelling middle grade story set in a dystopian future that feels all too plausible. You can feel the heat, dust and humidity of the Australian farm on which the story is set and sadly imagine a world where bees no longer exist and pollination has to be done by hand. Featuring a bold and fierce heroine named Peony, who’s bravery is admirable in the face of true adversity,  How to Bee is a fast-moving story, full of heart rending moments. Taken unwillingly from her home, Peony’s struggles are frequent but she doesn’t lose heart and her determination to get back to her Grandfather and sister is palpable. Even in the most unpleasant of situations, Peony keeps her desire for freedom in sight, making friends in the most unexpected of places. It’s a story full of hope and courage, thankfully (spoiler alert) with a happy ending; but also a stark warning for those who ignore the plight of the diminishing bee population. After reading How to Bee, when you next see bees buzzing around the garden you’ll look at them with new eyes and Peony’s story will stay with you long after the final page.

Bren MacDibble was raised on farms all over New Zealand and now lives in Melbourne. How to Bee has been shortlisted for several awards and is Bren’s first children’s novel to be available in the UK.

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Truly Wildly Deeply by Jenny McLachlantruly wildy deeply.jpg

Freedom matters to Annie. She has cerebral palsy and she’s had to fight hard to get the world to see her for who she truly is.  Annie is starting college.She can’t wait. No more school, no more uniform and no one telling her what to do. Its the start of a new adventure and Annie’s not going to let anyone or anything get in the way of that…

There’s something wonderful about coming back to a character you love. This story features the fabulous feisty Annie from Stargazing for Beginners – and she’s even better this time around! We meet her just as she’s going to college, determined to make her own way as ever despite her disability. Annie is a force to be reckoned with but she experiences the perils of teenage life just like anyone else. Making new friends, finding her way round a new campus, dealing with family and of course, finding romance. We see new insight into what makes Annie tick and meet the absolutely wonderful character of Fab, in whom Annie may have met her match. Truly Wildly Deeply is a gorgeous tale with a gorgeous heroine, who springs to life, inspires with her everyday courage and brings a smile to your face with her wit and wisdom! It’s a fantastic story by one of my favourite writers for young people – read it; you won’t be disappointed!

Jenny McLachlan worked as an English teacher before becoming a full-time writer in 2014. She has written fantastic books for young people including the Ladybirdz series and Stargazing for Beginners.

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tenderTender by Eve Ainsworth

Marty and Daisy spend their lives pretending. Marty pretends his Mum’s grip on reality isn’t slipping by the day.  Daisy pretends her parents aren’t exhausting themselves while they look after her brother. They both pretend they’re fine. That everything is fine.  But the thing about pretending is, at some point, it has to stop. And then what?

Another gritty, but ultimately uplifting story from Eve Ainsworth, who writes with such insight into the problems some young people experience today. The two protagonists face extreme difficulties in their lives, both affected by a family member suffering from debilitating illness. Daisy adores her brother but his health problems take their toll on everything in her life no matter how hard she tries to cope. Marty doesn’t want any help looking after his Mum and he certainly doesn’t want to attend some youth group for people ‘like him’.  When Daisy and Marty meet, as well as dealing with everyday teenage troubles, the cracks in their ability to deal with things at home start to show.  You can totally understand why they are drawn to each other and as the story unfolds, they find hope in new friendship.  Tender is a compelling read, with characters you really care about. Supported by an Arts Council award, the novel focuses on important issues that many will relate to, raising the profile of problems around at mental health and young carers.  I read it in one sitting and would highly recommend this YA read.

Eve Ainsworth has written several YA novels focused on issues affecting young people. Her work in pastoral care in schools has given her a real insight to the needs of teenagers and a desire to raise awareness of the things that matter to them.

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With thanks to Bloomsbury, Nosy Crow, Old Barn Books, and Scholastic for sending me these books to review!

2 thoughts on “New reviews: five great reads!

  1. Pingback: New reviews: Man’s best friend in books! | thebookactivist

  2. Pingback: New reviews: Tom Fletcher’s Book Club 2018: a bundle of brilliant summer reads! | thebookactivist

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