BLOG TOUR: Starfell by Dominique Valente

Starfell Jacket lowresToday I’m hosting the final stop on the blog tour for Starfell by Dominique Valente. I’m delighted to welcome Dominique to the blog with a guest post on writing – even when you are feeling least inspired. Many will identify with the dreaded writers block, but Dominique has some great tips for getting past it.

Starfell is Dominique’s debut middle grade fantasy series published by HarperCollins and I can safely say it’s absolutely gorgeous! I spent a large amount of time smiling at the wonderful storytelling and thinking about how my younger self would have been totally enthralled.  The first book entitled Willow Moss and the Lost Day introduces a likeable young witch called Willow, who feels less than special even with her special powers. Whilst she might be able to find all sorts of lost things, compared to her beautiful sisters and mother, it’s all rather boring. If it weren’t for Willow’s eccentric grandmother, also a witch and whom Willow adores, life would be very dull.  As we soon discover, all that is about to change when the most powerful witch in Starfell arrives on her doorstep, asking for help.  So begins the most marvellous – and dangerous – magical quest where Willow finds that even the most unlikely of powers can save the world.

Starfell is the most enchanting story with a perfect balance of magic, heart and imagination.  Willow and the friends she makes are a delightful cast of characters and Starfell feels like it could be just over the hill, so good is the world-building – although watch out for the trolls, wizards and Brothers of Wol! There’s also plenty of humour largely from Oswin, Willow’s somewhat begrudging sidekick; a sort of cat in a carpet-bag! Full of positive messages around believing in yourself and being selfless in the face of great difficulty, Starfell will have you hooked from the first page. Brought to life by Sarah Warburton’s brilliant illustrations, this book sings inside and out!

Read on for fantastic writing tips from the author herself, perhaps showing just how she created Starfell magic!

Writing with the handbrake up by Dominique Valente

dom“When I first discovered my love for writing I’d sit down for hours happily creating a magical world, never once wondering what an end reader would think. And then I started writing for a living. Having to expose my thoughts and ideas for someone to judge or correct, was tough. I’m not going to lie. But it was good for me. I learn the hard way, which isn’t good – and so often, the only way I improve is with tough love.

And while that has helped with making my writing more polished – and I now pay a lot more attention to things like grammar and structure. (There’s nothing quite like a newsroom and an editor who will call out your mistake in front of all of your colleagues to make you pull up your socks, fast!) It can take a bite out of your confidence, particularly if you allow it more room than it deserves.

It’s a bit like writing with the handbrake up. You’re able to write but it’s hard going because you’re having to try ignore that annoying voice – the one that tells you that you aren’t good enough, smart enough … and still haven’t grasped the comma at the age of thirty (just me?) . That voice is not always there. Some days the words come easy and I delight in every one. But others the FEAR arrives and it’s like wading against a current.

When that happens, this is what I do to get myself through it:

Write first thing in the morning, just after I wake. There’s something about an early morning start, before my brain has fully woken up that really helps. You’re still in that sleepy state and the self-doubt hasn’t had a chance to truly kick in, so by the time you’re fully wake you’ve already knocked out a few hundred words and you’re already half-way there…

Writing sprints. I set a timer and write for as long as I set it – usually ten minutes. There’s something about the ticking timer that focuses the brain not on the fear of a writing a bad story but on the fear of not putting down all the words, which really works. I learnt this great tip from the author Sarah Painter, and her excellent book on the subject of fear and self-doubt – Stop Worrying, Start Writing: How to Overcome Fear, Self-Doubt and Procrastination.

Just keep going. If the scene doesn’t work, I just work around it – I can always come back and fix it later. Or with a little distance I might find that actually that scene is great. It happens. The trick is to keep moving forward. The Jodi Picoult quote: ‘You can’t edit a blank page’ is so true. I’ve put that up on my chalkboard more than once, because I sometimes need a daily reminder of this.

Write the story for yourself first. I used to follow Stephen King’s advice which is to write for an ideal reader in mind – now I just write the story I want to read. For me it’s about creating something that I enjoy, I figure if I’m bored or moved or excited – maybe someone else will be too, and if not, at least I had fun doing it. For a while, when I was journalist and was trying so hard to write for someone else, I forgot about the joy – and that’s where the magic really lies.”

STARFELL: Willow Moss and the Lost Day by Dominique Valente out now in hardback (£12.99, HarperCollins Children’s Books)

Follow Dominique on twitter @domrosevalente, #Starfell

 With thanks to Laura and HarperCollins for sending me this book to review and inviting me to participate in the blog tour! Don’t forget to check out the rest of the tour:

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BLOG TOUR: Lily and the Rockets by Rebecca Stevens

 

I’m hosting the final stop on the blog tour for Lily and the Rockets by Rebecca Stevens. I was delighted to be invited to do so, having been a huge fan of Rebecca Stevens previous novel, Valantine Joe. This latest middle grade novel Lily and the Rockets, published by Chicken House, is a fantastic story that celebrates girls and women in football and serves as a poignant reminder of how the first World War impacted the lives of so many. Not just those serving in conflict but those left at home, who had to totally transform their way of living whilst the men were away.

Lily and the Rockets Jacket lowresIt’s 1918. Lily spends her days working in a munitions factory, her nights picking metal out of her hair, and her lunchtimes kicking a ball with her workmates. Together they form a football team, the Rockets, and a league soon follows. But when the war ends, the girls lose both their jobs and their football. Not Lily. If her only chance of being a goalie is to play with the men, then that’s what she’ll do.

Lily is a wonderful heroine, determined to live her dream of playing football. Such is the narrative and quality of the writing, the characters leap off the page and you feel that their story could be true. It was in fact is inspired by the Woolwich Arsenal Rocket Ladies FC, who were one of several female-only teams that thrived while the Great War raged on. Despite their success, once the war was over, a ban was put in place by the FA that was to last fifty years.  Thankfully women’s football is now in a much better place and perhaps without girls and women like Lily and her friends, who were brave enough to stand up to convention, we wouldn’t be about to celebrate the FIFA Women’s World Cup which begins next month (7 June- 7 July 2019).

I’m delighted to welcome Rebecca Stevens to the blog share more about her inspiration for the book!

‘Complaints having been made as to football being played by women, the Council feel impelled to express their strong opinion that the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged’  Football Association spokesman, 1921

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“Lots of people know about the munitionettes of WW1. They’ve seen the propaganda posters of the time, urging women and girls to ‘do their bit’, to fill the jobs in the factories left empty by the men and make the bombs and bullets needed for the war. What fewer people know is that the women and girls started to play football;  they formed their own teams and leagues and then, when in 1915 the Football Association suspended the men’s professional game for the duration  of the war, they started to play on their grounds, attracting crowds as big – and sometimes bigger – than the men’s game.

 

The most successful team of all, the Dick, Kerr Ladies from Preston (the comma isn’t a typo – it was originally a team of workers from a factory owned by a Mr Dick and a Mr Kerr), drew huge crowds. The biggest was a crowd of 53,000 inside the ground with over 14,000 locked out – a record for a women’s match that wasn’t beaten until the 2012 Olympics when England played Brazil. Ladies’ football was a success.

So what happened?  

Well, the war ended. The men and boys needed their jobs back. The women and girls got kicked out of the factories. And the gentlemen of the Football Association decided they didn’t like the idea of females playing football after all and announced that they would expel any club who allowed ladies’ teams to play on their grounds.

And that was that.

But what, I wondered, if it wasn’t. What if there was one girl who refused to give up, who found a way to carry on playing?

Ever since I was little, I’ve loved stories about disguise, people pretending to be someone else and actually becoming more like themselves in the process. Mulan, Sweet Polly Oliver, so many of Shakespeare’s heroines.  Even Cinderella is able to become somebody else just by putting on a different outfit (perhaps that’s why we all love makeovers!).   So, in Lily and the Rockets, I decided to do the same and write a girls’ own story about football, friendship and feminism in the hope that it would encourage readers to follow their own star, whatever that star might be.”

Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com and follow Rebecca Stevens on twitter @rstevenswriter. With thanks to Chicken House for inviting me to participate in this blog tour. Check out the rest of the tour here:

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New reviews: a picture book celebration!

Picture books offer brilliant opportunities to explore the world around us, how we see ourselves and how we interact with others.  Today I’m sharing a round up of some of the picture books that have made their way onto my TBR pile recently.  These books are a marvellous example of the variety of amazing illustrations that tell us stories and help us share the wonder of the world with children!

suitcaseThe Suitcase by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros is a thought-provoking story of overcoming fears of the unknown and showing kindness to those in need. When a strange arrives, the animals are not sure how to greet him and are even mistrustful of him.  However, they realise just in time that the stranger needs their help not hostility and so they show him true kindness and help him make a new home.  Using colour contrasts to show the impact being kind can have and bringing the animals to life with quirky illustrations, this story will teach even the youngest of readers about the value of kindness and not being afraid of what is ‘different’.  Find out more at Nosy Crow.

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Oink by David Elliot is the softly drawn story of Pig who wants to have a nice relaxing bath. But his animal friends have other ideas and soon the bath is full.  Pig resorts to an unusual way to get rid of them so he can get his rest and relaxation. This amusing tale is told through expressive illustrations, almost wordless, and is on which many will identify with (although perhaps not the method of making his friends leave the bath!).   One for all the family to enjoy. Find out more at Gecko Press.

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The Green Giant by Katie Cottle highlights the importance of nature and how we can all make the world a bit more green. When Bea visits her grandfather for a summer holiday, she discovers a green giant in the greenhouse who tells her all about how he survived the grey city.  Bea realises the wonder of nature and when she returns home with a gift from the giant, Bea makes her grey city world become more green too. A timely tale, the vibrant illustrations and simple narrative create a magical feel to the power of nature to transform and shares how we can all make our world a better place. Find out more at Pavilion Books.

william beeWilliam Bee’s Wonderful World of Trains and Boats and Planes by William Bee is the delightful second in the series celebrating the wonders of transport.  Wonderful, full-colour illustrations bring to life all manner of trains, boats and aeroplanes taking the reader on a voyage of discovery that is sure to be enjoyed again and again by young readers.  William is accompanied again by his dog Sparky and the rather brilliant team of traffic cones, who add humour throughout.  Children will be fascinated and entertained – and so will their parents! Find out more at Pavilion Books.

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Big Cat by Emma Lazell is a hilarious story about Isobel and her Grandma and their discovery of a very Big Cat in the garden. Grandma is happy to have Big Cat to stay – afterall she has many cats already! But she and Isobel soon realise this cat is not all it seems. Told through brilliant, larger-than-life illustrations and text, the chaos Big Cat causes comes leaping off the page as do the very funny reactions of Grandma’s other cats.  Sure to delight readers and be a favourite at bedtime, this is definitely one to have on the bookshelf. Find out more at Pavilion Books.

flyFly Flies by Ziggy Hanaor illustrated by Alice Bowsher is a sweet story about being happy as you are. Fly is enjoying a day of wibbly wobbly flying all over the place.  Blackbird, Seagull, Starling and Hawk insist she’s doing it wrong – but she know she’s now even though she tries to be like them.  With bold black and white illustrations, our unexpected hero’s journey of trial and error is brilliantly depicted and her final outburst is spot-on! Leaving you with a warm feeling, this story celebrates the importance of being yourself, no matter what. Find out more at Cicada Books.

its your worldIt’s Your World Now by Barry Falls is a gorgeous celebration of the world we live in!  Encouraging youngsters to be bold and fearless despite setbacks, the narrative shows them what they might do in life, what they might experience – good and bad – and how they can overcome.  Through enchanting illustrations and a lyrical rhyming narrative, it really is an ode on how to live a wonderful life and make the most of our world. In this day and age of what can seem like endless gloom and doom, this story provides a celebration of the world of possibility. A great encouragement for young and old alike! Find out more at Pavilion Books.

With thanks to Cicada Books, Gecko Press, Nosy Crow and Pavilion Books for sending me these titles for review.

 

New reviews: Man’s best friend in books!

Man’s best friend makes a brilliant addition to the cast of many children’s books!  I realised that a whole host of stories I’ve read recently feature a dog either as a companion or as a central part of the plot. Dogs are a big part of many children’s lives and can have a unique connection with their owners.  These books may be very different in style but they all share in celebrating man’s best friend!

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Don’t Hug the Pug by Robin Jacobs illustrated by Matthew Hodson

Baby Likes to cuddle.  He is allowed to hug the rug, the jug, the bug and the slug….but NOT the pug! Why not? What could be wrong with the pug?

A simple, rhyming narrative combines with larger-than-life, quirky illustrations to celebrate the natural curiosity of babies and their desire to play with things they shouldn’t! A great book to read aloud, children will love joining in with ‘Don’t hug the pug!’ and be highly amused by the rather smelly outcome!  Grown-ups will recognise the persistence of the little chap as he tries to hug the pug and is told no over and over – without success.  Pugs do have a reputation for being a bit smelly but perhaps on this occasion it’s a little undeserved! Great fun.

With thanks to Cicada Books for sending me this book to review. 

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My Dog Mouse by Eva Lindstrӧm

“Can I take Mouse for a walk?” I ask, and I’m always allowed.  We set off, very slowly. Mouse walks at a snails pace. He stops at a lampposts and fences and sniffs for a long time.  He’s old and fat with ears as thin as pancakes.  His walk is a kind of waddle and he’s always pleased to see me. 

This is such a lovely, gentle story about an old dog called Mouse and a young girl who loves to take him for a walk.  She might not own Mouse but as the story progresses you can see just how much she loves him, even if he is slow and fat and old.  And he loves her too.

Beautifully paced with charming illustrations, and leaving you with a warm heart, My Dog Mouse is perfect for anyone who has ever owned and loved a dog into old age.

With thanks to Gecko Press for sending me this book to review.

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McTavish Takes the Biscuit by Meg Rosof

When Pa Peachey decides to enter the town bake-off competition, his grand plans turn out to be far more impressive than his baking skills.  As Pa’s ambitions start to crumble, rescues dog McTavish smells disaster in the making. Can he find a way to save the Peachey family from disaster yet again?

The third outing for McTavish and the Peachey family, this is a delightful tale full of trademark humour and heart as Pa Peachey attempts to bake. I love his grand plans and even though you can feel his family’s concern – and possible embarrassment – you have to admire his ambition as he tries to bake his way to glory!  Family life is brilliantly brought to life with the Peachey children Betty, Ollie and Ava watching in dismay as their father creates chaos determined to win the bake off by creating a gingerbread sculpture of the Palace of Versailles! It is, of course, up to the wonderful McTavish to save the day and be the hero yet again.  A great fun read for all the family to enjoy!

With thanks to Barrington Stoke for sending me this book to review. See my review of the previous book in this series McTavish Goes Wild.

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D-Day Dog by Tom Palmer

Jack can’t wait for the school trip to the D-Day landing beaches. It’s his chance to learn more about the war heroes he has always admired – brave men like his Dad, who is a Reserve soldier.  But when his dad is called up to action and things at home spiral out of control, everything Jack believes about war is thrown into question.  Finding comfort only in the presence of his loyal dog, Finn, Jack is drawn to the heart-wrenching story of one particular D-Day paratrooper.  On 6 June 1944, Emile Corteil parachuted into France with his dig, Glen – and Jack is determined to discover their fate…..

Bringing together multiple themes of conflict, remembrance, family, friendship and refugees, D-Day Dog is a totally absorbing and thought-provoking story.  It brilliantly depicts the complex nature of war and conflict, and what it really means to make the ultimate sacrifice of giving your life for your country.  Questions that we all at some point ask ourselves are examined through the impressive narrative – from whether it’s right that a father go to war and leave his family behind, using animals in conflict to why we should remember those who died in wartime. It’s particularly poignant when Jack realises that conflict isn’t just something that happened a long time ago – it happens now, every single day. His connection with his dog Finn becomes all the more important as he discovers what happened to wartime dog Glen. This is a really accessible read and the historical detail brings the true nature of war to life. Ultimately this story will help all who read it understand the impact of conflict and why remembrance is so important.

With thanks to Barrington Stoke for sending me this book to review. Read my review of Tom Palmer’s Armistice Runner here.

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The Dog Runner Bren MacDibble

Ella and her brother, Emery, are alone in a city that’s starving to death. If they are going to survive, they must get away, up-country, to find Emery’s mum. But how can two kids travel such big distances across a dry, barren landscape?

Set in a future where a fungus has killed all the grass and famine has taken hold, Ella’s mother and father have gone, leaving her with her older half-brother Emery and the family’s dogs.  Their only chance of survival is get to the country and the only way they can do this quickly enough is to use a dog-sled, and two other dogs given to them by a friend. The dystopian world they live in is fraught with danger – marauding motorbike gangs steal anything of use; Ella and Emery cannot trust anyone. As the story progress, Emery is injured and they lose their strongest dog making their situation even more precarious.  Ella has to use all her bravery and strength to keep her family safe.  A fast paced plot builds the tension and a strong sense of how awfully ‘real’ this could be if we don’t look after our environment can be felt throughout.  Ella makes a brilliant heroine and the dangers she, her brother and the dogs face are palpable. I loved the relationship between the children and their dogs and the instinctive way they protect each other. The Dog Runner is a non-stop adventure which will entertain as much as it will provoke thought about the importance of looking after our planet and how we should be doing this now – not waiting until it’s too late.

With thanks to Old Barn Books for sending me this book to review. Read my review of Bren MacDibble’s debut title How to Bee here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book of the Month: Mo, Lottie and the Junkers by Jennifer Killick

book of the monthMo Lottie and the Junkers is the first in a new middle grade series written by Jennifer Killick, author of the Alex Sparrow series. Published by Firefly Press, this series introduces us to an unlikely detective duo who readers will love! I absolutely love Jennifer Killick’s books – fun, accessible, original, just the right amount of thoughtfulness and really great characters – this new title is no exception and that’s why it’s Book of the Month!

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Mo, Lottie and the Junkers by Jennifer Killick

Mo Appleby’s ordered life is turned upside down when he and his mum move in with his new stepdad and stepsisters, Lottie and Sadie. The home he left behind is just across the street, and there’s something not quite right about the new occupant. Other strange new people keep popping into his life, too: a bonkers lollipop man and a boy called Jax, who seems to understand Mo better than anyone else, especially Lottie. Who are the weird new people in their town? Do they have any involvement in the disappearance of Mo’s dad many years ago? And why does the ice cream taste so good? Lottie is determined to find out exactly what’s going on, even if it makes Mo mad, and even if it leads them both into serious danger…

Mo, Lottie and the Junkers is a totally engaging and highly amusing sci-fi-come-detective story featuring a brilliant duo in Mo and Lottie, who provide hilarious narration. With tons of original and eccentric ideas throughout the narrative you can’t help but be drawn in to the mystery.  Who on earth are the junkers? Why is the lollipop man behaving so strangely? Why can’t they stop thinking about the ice-cream van? There is definitely something odd going on – and odd is something Mo knows all about. He’s a wonderfully eccentric character who likes to collects lost property and try to return it to its owners, amongst other things. Mo enjoys peace and quiet and having his own space.  His new stepsisters on the other hand are loud, nosy and drive him mad which makes for some very amusing sibling scenarios.

Against this back drop of getting to grips with a new family home and a blended family set-up, Mo and Lottie join together and do their best to find the truth and solve the mystery. They face danger with bravery and determination and each helps the other deal with their various frailties and fears.  It’s great to see the warmth and friendship they develop as the story progresses, balanced perfectly with sibling irritation! With some brilliant plot twists, you couldn’t predict what’s coming and the very gruesome discoveries they make.  Be prepared for some mad moments, nasty villains and edge of your seat action.  A great read for middle grade, Mo, Lottie and the Junkers should be on all your bookshelves!

Find out more www.jenniferkillick.com and follow Jennifer on Twitter 

With thanks to Firefly Press for sending me a proof copy of this book to review. 

 

 

New review: Pog by Padraig Kenny

Pog is the highly anticipated new middle-grade novel from the author of Tin, Pádriag Kenny. Published by Chicken House, Pog was chosen as Independent Bookseller’s Book of the Month for April. Featuring a unique magical creature and a heartfelt adventure, Pog brings to life a fantastical world and vibrant characters and is sure to achieve the same critical acclaim of the author’s first novel.

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Pog by Pádriag Kenny

David and Penny’s strange new home is surrounded by forest. It’s the childhood home of their mother, who’s recently died. But other creatures live here … magical creatures, like tiny, hairy Pog. He’s one of the First Folk, protecting the boundary between the worlds. As the children explore, they discover monsters slipping through from the place on the other side of the cellar door. Meanwhile, David is drawn into the woods by something darker, which insists there’s a way he can bring his mother back …

Totally quirky from the first page, Pog brings to life a brave new hero and a heartfelt story of loss, love and family.  Moving in to their ancestral home surrounded by an old and dark forest, Penny and David are reeling from the death of their mother, with their father on the brink of breakdown.  The atmosphere of grief is palpable and little do they realise there are dark creatures just waiting to feed on their sadness.  Thankfully Pog, a Lumpkin and member of the First Folk and protector, lives in the attic. He’s a funny little creature whose task it is to protect The Necessary, the portal to another world through which dark creatures threaten to invade. With the ever-increasing danger lurking and David being tricked into thinking he can get his mother back, Pog has his work cut out in protecting the family, capturing the creatures that have already escaped through the portal and making sure The Necessary is forever closed.  This adventure’s finale will have readers holding their breath!

Pog’s antics are often very humorous and provide a good balance to the sadness of the tale, reminding us that there is always hope. The tension builds throughout and there are some truly moving moments between the family as they all try and come to terms with their grief, which are handled very sensitively and feel very real. The forest and its creepy inhabitants are also thoroughly believable – I don’t ever want to meet a bloodworm or a greebeldy! Pog’s bravery unites both Penny and David – his story is that of a true hero and will delight all readers.

Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com  and follow the author on Twitter

With thanks to Chicken House for sending me this book to review.

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New review: Wildspark by Vashti Hardy

After the success of the brilliant Brightstorm, it is no surprise that Vashti Hardy’s latest novel Wildspark published by Scholastic, has been much anticipated. And with good reason – it’s brilliant!  Featuring all the best elements of a great children’s sci-fi fantasy novel – awe inspiring imagination, incredible characters, unexpected plot twists and a truly believable world – middle grade readers will dive into Medlock and not want to come back! Vashti Hardy is a copywriter with an MA in Creative Writing and an alumna of and mentor at the Golden Egg Academy

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Wildspark by Vashti Hardy

Prue is a young farm girl whose older brother, Francis, had a natural talent for engineering. But after his untimely death, the family have been shattered by grief. Everything changes when a stranger arrives at the farm. A new, incredible technology has been discovered in the city of Medlock, where a secretive guild of inventors have found a way to bring spirits of the dead back into the world, capturing their energy and powering animal-like machines (the Personifates). Unaware that Francis has died, the Ghost Guild wants him to join them as an apprentice. Prue poses as “Frances” and goes to Medlock to learn the craft – but she’s on a mission of her own, to bring her brother back home. And to find Francis, she needs to find a way to help the ghost machines remember the people they used to be. But if she succeeds, the whole society could fall apart.

If you lost someone you loved and thought there might be a way to get them back, would you do anything you could to try? Even if it meant going against your parents’ wishes and deceiving all those around you? That is the idea at the heart of this fantastic story – and the challenges that trying to reverse the inevitability of death causes. Bursting at the seams with thrilling adventure and a truly thought-provoking narrative, Wildspark will keep you on the edge of your seat throughout.  As the story unfolds, we discover Prue is a feisty and determined heroine, applying her engineering knowledge – and a whole lot of new skills she learns as an apprentice – to find her brother.

Against a backdrop of uncertainty about the future of Personifates and growing debate about their rights as ‘humans’, Prue must use all her ingenuity and quite a bit of deception to enable her to succeed.  Thankfully she finds support from her new found friends and fellow apprentices – Agapantha and Edwin – who is the first ever Personifate apprentice. Together they navigate the challenges of being apprentices, boarding school and meeting their training mentors. But it is clear that Prue’s desire for discovery will come at a very high price and she and her friends face all manner of dangers in order to overcome the terror that is constantly lurking.

Featuring a truly imaginative world full of breath-taking scenery, wondrous inventions and the most marvellous array of characters you could hope to meet, Wildspark is one of the best books I’ve read this year. I hope there will be a sequel!

Find out more at www.vashtihardy.com and follow Vashti on Twitter.

With thanks to Scholastic for sending me a proof copy of this book to review.

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