New reviews: Brilliant Barrington Stoke books!

I have long been a fan of Barrington Stoke who publish super-readable books for children and young people. Each book has brilliant features which make them more accessible particularly to children with dyslexia or visual stress. In both my working and home life I’m well aware of the challenges being a reluctant or struggling reader presents, so it’s great to have something to offer those might who need a more accessible read. Bringing together award winning authors and illustrators, Barrington Stoke publish a whole range of brilliant stories and the three I’ve read recently are no exception.

mctavish

McTavish Goes Wild by Meg Rosoff, illustrated by Grace Easton tells the story of the Peachey family and their delightful rescue dog McTavish. A wonderful spin on who is rescuing who, McTavish knows what’s best for the family and exactly where they should take their summer holiday. Like any family, each member has his or her preference but McTavish with brilliant doggy intelligence leads them on a fantastic journey of discovery through the countryside. This really is a delightful tale; I had a smile on my face the whole way through. Wonderfully observed and with lovely quirky illustrations, we see the Peachey family face the annual dilemma of how to keep everyone happy on holiday.  Thankfully McTavish is on hand to help. I would love a dog like him to solve family disputes and remind everyone what’s important!  This is the second book to feature McTavish and is aimed at children aged 8-12 years.

hari

Hari and his Electric Feet by Alexander McCall Smith, illustrated by Sam Usher is a magical story aimed at 8-12 year olds, featuring Hari and his unique dancing talent. Discovering he can dance is one thing but when Hari and his good friend Mr Ram realise just how infectious it is, a wonderful adventure ensues. From the local street sellers to the farm animals to fighting politicians, everyone comes under Hari’s spell with lively illustrations capturing the movement. I love the idea of dance bringing such joy to people so much so that it even helps bring about world peace! Hari is a gorgeous character and you almost want to join in with his electric feet. If only world politics were that simple….

mariella

Mariella Queen of the Skies by Eoin Colfer, illustrated by Katy Halford tells the brilliant adventures of nine year old Mariella and her quest to escape bedtime. Full of inspired ideas and inventions she won’t rest till she has conquered sleep. Mariella discovers how to fly away from night time and spends her time visiting far off places and thinking of fabulous inventions. But it’s only when her ideas run out she realises that sleep is more important than she thought! Taking the familiar battle of avoiding bedtime, this story captures the imagination and wins hearts with a magnificent heroine in Mariella. And also reminds us sleep is essential no matter how smart you are and how many ideas you have! Featuring lovely colourful illustrations, this is one of the Little Gems series aimed at children aged 5-8 years.

Whether you’re looking for an accessible read or just a great story these books are a must-have addition to every bookshelf and library.

With thanks to Barrington Stoke for sending me these wonderful books to review. 

 

New reviews: a big blog catch-up

Books julyIt’s been a quiet time on the blog recently due to an enforced period of rest after unexpected illness.  At times I didn’t even have the energy to read a book let alone write a review;  I must have been ill!  Thankfully I’m on the mend and have since been reading lots of books – the perfect distraction, entertainment and comforting pastime when you’re in recovery! I’ve made a small dent in my TBR pile, caught up with Tom Fletcher’s Book Club, and discovered some great new books.

So in no particular order here’s a snapshot of what I’ve read over the last few weeks (more to come in future posts). Middle grade to YA, these six books would be great to add to your summer reading list!

Walls

Walls by Emma Fischel

Meet Ned Harrison Arkle-Smith – he’s grumpy, bossy, and exasperating, but you can’t help liking him. Oh, and he’s just discovered he can walk through walls . . . Ned’s world is collapsing. His parents have split up, his best friend is behaving strangely, he has an awful new neighbour, and Snapper is making his life a misery. In fact NOBODY is behaving the way Ned wants.  And then there’s the wall. Right down the middle of Ivy Lodge and cutting up Ned’s life. A big brick reminder of all that’s going wrong in his life. Until, that is, the night when Ned discovers he has an astonishing new skill . .

Walls is a funny and original story with a theme that will be familiar to many, and an unforgettable hero who quite often gets it wrong.   Ned can’t cope with his parents divorce and his behaviour starts to impact on everything he does – but he can’t see that he’s in the wrong. And when he’s presented with the ‘gift’ of being able to walk through walls try as he might to use his new power for good, Ned just can’t help himself.  Exasperating everyone around him, it takes a dangerous situation for Ned to accept the things he can’t change and find the real hero inside himself.  Full of humour and heart, Walls is a great middle-grade read, generating huge empathy with an enjoyable cast of supporting characters. A well-paced narrative with lots of humour will keep you hooked and despite his troubles, you can’t help but root for Ned to find his way. A thoroughly enjoyable read.

With thanks to Oxford University Press for a proof copy of this book. Find out more at www.emmafischel.com.

 

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Hope by Rhian Ivory

It’s the summer between school and sixth-from. When Hope doesn’t get into drama college and her friends do, her plans fall apart.  She’s struggling with anger, grief for her father and a sense that her own body is against her. A chance meeting on a ferry gives her someone to talk to. But is she brave enough to ask for help? Can she find her plan B?

This is a great YA story with so much for readers to relate to. How many times have you made plans for your life only to find life itself has other ideas? It’s a really hard lesson to learn and Hope is in the throes of this dealing with the death of her father and an unsuccessful drama school audition.  She’s also coping with undiagnosed PMDD, a horrible condition girls suffer from causing extreme mood swings, irritability, depression and other symptoms the week before menstruation. The fallout of all these events impacts on her relationships, particularly with her best friend, Callie.

Ironically given her name, Hope feels anything but, and you can feel the emotional turmoil throughout the narrative. A new friend gives her an outlet for her frustration, but even this causes problems. Hope is forced to face her troubles whilst working with her mother at the hospital as part of the Singing Medicine team and the arrival of her Italian grandfather gives her renewed optimism. I loved the portrayal of their relationship showing how we all need someone to believe in us. Hope finds her voice in more ways than one– to seek help with her condition and to secure a new path for herself. This is an important novel, shining a light on a horrible health issue and showing that life doesn’t always go the way you want, but there is indeed always hope.

With thanks to Firefly Press for sending me this book to review. Follow Rhian on twitter: @Rhian_Ivory

 

feathers

The Weight of A Thousand Feathers by Brian Conaghan

Bobby Seed has questions. What’s another word for ‘thesaurus’? How can I tell Bel I want her as my girl friend, not my girlfriend? How much pain is Mum in today? Has she taken her pills? And sometimes, secretly, why us? Bobby’s little brother Danny has questions too. Will Bobby let him have Rice Krispies for dinner? And can he stay up late on the computer? And why won’t Mum’s stupid illness just GO AWAY? But it’s Mum’s question for Bobby that could turn everything on its head. It’s the Big One. The Unthinkable One.  If Bobby agrees, he won’t just be soothing her pain. He’ll be helping to end it. Would he? Could he?

Described as a “bold questioning exploration of the lengths we’ll go to for the people we love” this is a brilliantly titled and equally brilliantly written novel.  Bobby is not your average teen; he doesn’t life the live he wants to live, he lives the life he has to live. But he does so with grit and determination, fiercely protective of the ones he loves.  His brother has learning needs and his mother spends most of her days in bed suffering from chronic multiple sclerosis.  Bobby’s relationship with both is beautifully portrayed showing the constant struggle between wanting to do the right thing and wanting not to have to be responsible all the time.  Bobby’s only outlet is his poetry; a hidden pleasure or perhaps a necessity through which he can express his feelings. His only help is his best friend Bel, a welcome carer-come-takeaway-night-buddy.  That is until he starts attending a support group, where he meets an array of young people in a similar situation to himself including the handsome and mysterious Lou.  The story unfolds with a narrative full of heart-rending emotion, touches of humour throughout, teen angst, romance and inevitably grief.  The reality described is harsh but truthful and the empathy you feel for Bobby in this impossible situation is overwhelming. Impossible questions don’t have possible answers and this gripping novel explores this theme in a way that stays with you long after the final page.

With thanks to Bloomsbury for sending me this book to review. Follow Brian on twitter: @BrianConaghan

Heart-of-Resistance

The Heart of Resistance by Sarah Tate

When a bomb destroys her London home, Agnes is left without parents or a guardian. But she can’t bear to live in a children’s home in the country. She needs to find her grandparents in France – a France occupied by the Nazis. Smuggled across the Channel, by chance she meets a Resistance group whose leader promises to help her in her quest. In turn, Agnes’s quick thinking saves both their skins. Left in the care of shepherds in the mountains, Agnes’s adventure is only just beginning – can she make it through to the end?

A wartime novel told with heart and full of adventure The Heart of Resistance weaves a tale of struggling against the odds to find the ones you love. Agnes has already suffered the loss of her parents and has grown up in the care of her maternal grandmother, who is killed during a bombing raid on London. Determined not to end up in an orphanage Agnes does the unthinkable and heads into the heart of occupied France to find her paternal grandparents.  Using skills she learnt playing on the blitzed streets of London, Agnes’ survival instincts kick in. Facing all manner of threats from hunger and starvation to German soldiers, she finds herself helping the resistance who in return promise to see her safely to the South of France. There is something mysterious in the face of the resistance leader, but Agnes can only think of getting to her family.  Just when she thinks she is safe, Agnes is captured and has to use all her wits to escape.  An exciting suspense-filled plot, The Heart of Resistance brings to life the danger of wartime, life in occupied France and the constant threat faced by all. It would make a great middle-grade historical classroom read.

With thanks to Ragged Bears for sending me this book to review.

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Alex Sparrow and the Furry Fury By Jennifer Killick

Catching the school’s runaway guinea pigs is not giving Alex job satisfaction, but how can he find a bigger test for his and Jess’s awkward superpowers? Jess is more worried about the bullied new boy, whose Mum runs the animal sanctuary. She volunteers at the sanctuary, but soon realises that something is very wrong; the animals are terrified. People report strange events: things missing, property destroyed, and the local squirrels have turned mean. The police have no suspects. It looks more and more like a job for Agent Alex…

Alex Sparrow is back and from the first page you’ll have a smile on your face!  Alex’s superhero antics haven’t abated and Jess still finds them totally exasperating.  However, bickering aside, they make a great duo and very quickly they find themselves in the midst of another bizarre adventure. This time they’re doing battle with a very mysterious villain, ninja squirrels and really quite frightening foxes to name a few.  Alex is convinced it’s something to do with the new boy from the animal sanctuary, Jess has fallen for the animal sanctuary assistant much to Alex’s disgust, but they both agree that there is definitely an unnatural force playing havoc with local wildlife.  It’s up to them to get to the bottom of things using their slightly unusual superpowers and of course the talents of Bob the goldfish to help. Alex’s determination increases when he realises his precious hedgehog Mr Prickles, a sanctuary resident, is in danger. Using all their ingenuity, from ear farts to animal conversations, Alex and Jess prove their superhero worth by the bucket load. Quirky characters, bags of humour and some excellent plot twists make this fantastic middle-grade adventure spring off the page.  You won’t fail to enjoy it!

With thanks to Firefly Press for sending me this book to review. Find out more at www.jenniferkillick.com.

 

it's a wrap

It’s a Wrap (Waiting for Callback #3) by Perdita & Honor Cargill

It’s a BIG year for Elektra. She’s wrapped her first feature film Raw (even if her character was unexpectedly killed off half-way through filming) and hosted – against the odds – the party of the year (well, until her mum turned up and kicked everyone out) so, things are definitely moving in the right direction. BUT she’s still not sure what’s going on with Archie, her bff Moss’s love life is in shreds and GCSEs are looming. And the COUNTDOWN to Raw’s release is TERRIFYING, not least because it turns out there’s more to promoting a movie than messing around on Insta… #ComingSoon, #ElektraExposed #RawTerror.  Elektra’s road to acting stardom is as rocky as ever…

It’s the night of Elektra’s 16th birthday party, immediately bringing to life the perils of being sweet sixteen – from romance complications to parents about to arrive home early!  So begins the story, which is brimming with all those teen dilemmas but of course the added issue of being a little bit famous. Elektra is possibly on the brink of super stardom but there could be a major problem with her first feature film, Raw.  Enter the PR gurus to ensure the film’s success, who do their best to train Elektra in how to create a social media profile, with hilarious and cringe-worthy results.

To be honest, trying to sum up this book in a short paragraph is tricky – there’s so much in it!  Great characters, believable relationships, slightly-mad-but-always-there family, love triangles and a cute and clever dog. It’s a great commentary on today’s improbable and fickle world of fame and fortune, very brilliantly demonstrating that it’s family and friends that matter along with lots of laughs.  Elektra makes a truly likeable heroine and shows real grit and determination in the face of social media backlash.  Add to this the glamour of the movies, some fabulously funny lines and a message of being true to yourself, It’s a Wrap will leave a smile on your face.

There are also some fantastic school resources to go with this book prompting discussion of the three titles in this series.  With book club questions, multiple choice quizzes, creative writing ideas and whole host of writing tips, the Waiting for Callback series is a fantastic package for encouraging teens readers to get creative.

 

With thanks to Perdita and Honor Cargill for sending me this book to review Find out more at www.waitingforcallback.com.

 

Books july

 

 

 

BLOG TOUR: The Truth About Lies by Tracy Darnton

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I’m delighted to be hosting a stop on the blog tour for the fantastic debut The Truth About Lies thriller by Tracy Darnton, from Stripes Publishing.

tracy-darntonTracy won the Stripes YA Short Story Prize in 2016, run in partnership with The Bookseller’s YA Book Prize.  Her story The Letter was published in the short story anthology I’ll Be Home for Christmas.  This is her first novel and I can assure you it is a gripping, brilliant read full of suspense,exploring the issues around memory and what happens when everything you do is built on lies.  Tracy joins the blog today with a very special guest post- welcome to the blog Tracy!

Unforgettable memory tips from The Truth About Lies

“I’ve always been interested in memory and writing my YA thriller The Truth About Lies was a great opportunity to explore it further. I can still remember the poems I learnt by heart when stuck at home with measles, the sickly smell of Impulse body spray from my teenage bedroom and definitely the shock of a near accident age 11. Why do I remember those things but not where I left my keys this morning?

In writing the book I became obsessed with all the little memory techniques that you can use to improve your powers of retrieval. I wove some of them into the book by using memory games as chapter headings. These hold their own clues or hints as to what has happened in the past.

I use the teacher character Mr Desai to set memory tasks too. He quickly learns all the students’ names using a classic technique of association. Give it a go: Imagine you’ve just met my character Dan at a party. Picture him with a famous Dan – Daniel Radcliffe maybe – sitting on his shoulders. Now ‘put’ Dan in a judo suit as dan is a ranking in martial arts.

To help further, add some emotion or general silliness – Dan Radcliffe blowing you kisses or raspberries – and how you would feel about that. And boom – Dan will be very impressed that you remember who he is next time you meet (though he won’t realise the role played by Daniel Radcliffe and some kisses).

Mr Desai teaches a memory palace or loci technique, placing items to remember along the route they know well around Dartmeet College. Making the images as whacky as possible helps to engrain them.

Lastly, the class develop their own mnemonics, for instance taking the first letters of something they need to remember to make a new word or phrase like BIDMAS in maths or Richard of York gave battle in vain. I dragged myself through theory for piano with a huge set of mnemonics. But, spoiler alert, Jess receives a rather sinister one tacked to her noticeboard…

The Truth About Lies conveys some of my fascination with how we can improve our memory. Don’t forget to try it.”

 

The Truth About Lies will be published by Stripes today! You can follow Tracy on Twitter @TracyDarnton #thetruthaboutlies

With thanks to Stripes Publishing for inviting me to participate in the blog tour and sending me a review copy of this book. 

Check out the rest of the blog tour at these brilliant blogs!

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