New review: Against All Gods by Maz Evans

Shhhh…I have a secret to tell you. Until very recently I hadn’t read any of the Who Let the Gods Out series……(*gasps of shock and horror*). Apologies. You know what it’s like – you hear about a book and think ‘ooo I must read that, sounds great’ and then you look at the TBR pile and think ‘OK well when I’ve got through these’. And that’s pretty much how it’s been since the first book in the series was published.  And yes I know, once it became clear it was a great story, I kept thinking ‘must read, must read’ but it wasn’t until the season finale in the shape of book four arrived on my doorstep that I thought ‘right, now’s the time’ . So I have.  And well. I can safely say that it was definitely worth the wait and the staying-up-till-late-at-night till I’d got to the fabulous end!

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Against All Gods by Maz Evans

The battle lines are drawn. It’s Good versus Evil. But which side will Elliot Hooper choose?  The Gods are ready to fight. But with Virgo, Gorgy and all Elementals imprisoned in Tartarus, the Goods need super-General Achillles to whip them into shape. And Patricia Porshely-Plum has Home Farm. In his final adventure, can Elliot find his way home? Or will he remain…..AGAINST ALL GODS?

Elliot is in real trouble.  The grief at the loss of his mother constantly threatens to overwhelm him, he’s lost his home and his friends are imprisoned. Standing by a river of fire in the midst of Tartarus, Elliot faces an impossible choice. Retrieve the final Chaos Stone and hand all four stones to the Daemon of Death Thanatos to bring his mother back to life – or refuse and die in the knowledge he’s saved the world but not her. Meanwhile Virgo is desperately trying to escape her jail in the Underworld, with her fellow captors, the Zodiac Council making less-than-helpful suggestions. And in the Great Hall on Mount Olympus, the gods are gathering; reuniting family, friends and frenemies who do their best – sort-of – to overcome their personality clashes in order to save Elliot. Who will triumph as the plot thickens, betrayals and loyalties are revealed and Elliot has to face his worst fears – as if he hasn’t had enough to deal with?! Not wanting to spoil the story, suffice to say you can expect a stupendous finale to this series with what now must be trademark wit, brilliant characterisation and the most hilarious take on the Greek gods and other celestial beings I’ve ever come across. And not forgetting the entire Royal Family….!

Not since I read Harry Potter have I enjoyed a series as much as this. I love children’s book series. With a great children’s book series you’re safe in the knowledge that there are at least three books if not more before thinking about what to read next – which can be especially useful when you’re working with less than avid readers! I know that the teachers and parents I talk to about books also love a good series for that very reason. You get completely immersed in a whole new world, attached to the characters and totally absorbed in the plot and you’re anticipating and enjoying the thrill of when the next book is published to find out what happened next.

Perhaps I missed out on the latter (and am maybe rather relieved I didn’t have to wait too long for what happened next!), but I absolutely loved every episode of this story featuring a fairly ordinary – but let’s be honest, also extra-ordinary –  chap who already has so much on his plate when his life changes beyond all recognition.  There’s love, laughter and adventure galore and the characterisation of the Greek gods had me in fits – especially as I studied Ancient History.  I wish this book had been around then – I expect my tutor would have loved it (or maybe would have been mortified?!). I was also surprised and moved by the narrative of Elliot and his mother and her illness which added huge depth the tale and of course caused many tears.  The emotional roller coaster of the series didn’t end there with the truth about Elliot’s father revealed and the rather brilliant ‘performance’ of Call Me Graham trying to help him towards the end. Another brilliant but suitably vile character was Mrs Porshely-Plum – almost worse than the Daemon of Death himself given her absolute deceit. The term ‘just desserts’ springs to mind.  All in all Who the Let Gods Out is surely a modern classic series which I know will be enjoyed by readers for years to come.  Don’t wait like I did to read them – get started now!

Find out more at www.maz.world and www.chickenhousebooks.com

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

New review: Call Me Alastair by Cory Leonardo

With a beautiful feather-covered book jacket, Call Me Alastair caught my attention in more ways than one. I’ve never read a book where one of the central protagonists is a parrot! An impressive literary middle grade debut by American author, Cory Leonardo and published by ScholasticCall Me Alastair will tug at your heart strings.

 

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Call Me Alastair by Cory Leonardo

Born in the back of a pet store, Alastair the parrot dreams of escape. But when his sister Aggie is purchased by a big-hearted boy, and Alastair is adopted by a lonely widow, his hopes for the future crash-land. In between anxiously plucking his feathers, chewing a few books, and finding his own poetic voice, Alastair plots his way back to Aggie and their flight to freedom.

Call Me Alastair is a moving and quirky tale, unlike anything I’ve read before.  Told through the eyes of three characters: Alastair, the literary parrot who has never known freedom and is fiercely protective of his sister; Fritz a twelve year old boy who helps in the pet store and recently lost his grandfather; and Bertie, a feisty widow trying to find purpose after the death of her husband. Each character is struggling to find their freedom – whether this be literally, in Alastair’s case, or freedom from grief and loneliness.  Alastair has a habit of eating books, and often ‘regurgitates’ these literary snacks in the form of poetry, reflecting much about his state of mind as he comes to terms with being separated from his sister. Fritz’s voice is heard through a medical log, sharing his desire to be a doctor and giving glimpses into the daily grind of life and being a bit different.  And Bertie’s story comes through the beautiful letters she writes to her husband of many years who has passed away; whilst trying hard to maintain a jovial attitude, it is clear just how much she misses him.  Their stories intertwine and each helps the other find acceptance and friendship.

The lingering narrative draws you in, tugging at your heart, creating empathy and understanding in a truly unexpected way. There is also light-hearted humour – particularly from the other residents of the pet shop who have many and varied views; a brilliant insight into what the world of domestic pets might be like! You can’t help but love Alastair, despite his crankiness and moments of melancholy; after all wouldn’t we all feel like that if we were separated from the one we love most in the world?  Fritz is just the most gorgeous boy, full of love and care and trying hard to make amends for things that just aren’t his fault. And Bertie, well, I just wanted to give her a great big hug and be her friend.

Call Me Alastair is a story to make time for; a wonderfully written tale of three very different characters who inadvertently help each other see they are not alone in the world.  Help and happiness can come from the most unexpected places but that is often one of the joys of life. I think Call Me Alastair demonstrates this beautifully.

Find out more at www.coryleonardo.com and www.scholastic.co.uk

With thanks to Scholastic for sending me this book to review.

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New review: When Good Geeks Go Bad by Catherine Wilkins

This funny, coming-of-age story kept me company on the commute, bringing a smile to my face and reminding me of the precarious nature of teenager-dom!  From the author of the My Best Friend and Other Enemies series, Catherine Wilkins, When Good Geeks Go Bad published by Nosy Crow, will have you rooting for the main character Ella, as she navigates school and family life.

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When Good Geeks Go Bad by Catherine Wilkins

When Ella’s Dad refuses to buy her cool school shoes or let her stay up later than 9.30, Ella decides to take things into her own hands. Being good hasn’t got her anywhere, so why not try being bad? But rebelling is a slippery slope and soon things spiral out of control. Can Ella get back on track? Or will she end up with egg on her face?

Ella is a pretty normal thirteen year old – she’s good at school, has a steadfast best friend Jas who’s she’s known for years and goes swimming with every Sunday.  But things aren’t great at school – she gets teased relentlessly by  the pretty girls for supposedly being ‘lame’ and a ‘povvo’ (poor) and bullied by the bad kids for being too ‘good’. Ella feels like she can’t win. Coupled with things at home not being great either, now that her parents have separated, it’s no wonder she starts to feel all over the place.  Especially as her attempts to be more grown-up, spread her wings a little and be a bit more ‘cool’ are well and truly thwarted by her strait laced father. With her Mum seeming to have abandoned her, bit by bit Ella starts to respond to her situation differently. Instead of grinning and bearing it; she fights back. Not with her fists, but with attitude.

Told through Ella’s eyes in first person narrative, When Good Geeks Go Bad is witty coming-of-age, middle grade story with some important themes at its heart.  Readers are bound to identify with the sometimes relentless navigation of trying to fit in at school, avoid being noticed too much for the wrong reasons and making a good impression with your peers.  Ella’s reaction and decision to start being ‘bad’ is totally understandable and provides for some very funny and possibly a bit cringe-worthy moments when it doesn’t pay off.  The insights into Ella’s own thoughts and feelings are often amusing but also moving as you feel her pain at not being understood. Ella is not without conscience as she realises the consequences of some of her actions.  As her Mum comes back into her life, we see the difficult dynamic of two very different people trying to ‘parent’ their daughter in totally different ways. Ella is lucky to have her understanding and steadfast friend Jas by her side, who helps her see what true friendship really is. With a thoroughly believable narrative, When Good Geeks Go Bad portrays teen rebellion with wit and wisdom and makes for a great read about friendship, family and believing in yourself.

Find out more at www.catherinewilkins.co.uk and www.nosycrow.com

With thanks to Nosy Crow for sending me this book to review.

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Book of the Month: The Midnight Hour by Benjamin Read and Laura Trinder

book of the monthPublished on 7th February from Chicken House, The Midnight Hour, is the much anticipated new book from Benjamin Read and Laura Trinder and our current Book of the Month!  Described as a ‘sparkling modern take on fantasy’ it’s sure to delight fans of fantasy fiction young and old alike.

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The Midnight Hour by Benjamin Read and Laura Trinder

Emily’s parents have vanished into the secret world of the Midnight Hour – a Victorian London frozen in time – home to magic and monsters. Emily must find them in the city of the Night Folk, armed only with a packed lunch, a stowaway hedgehog and her infamously big mouth. With bloodthirsty creatures on her tail, Emily has to discover the truth to rescue her parents. What family secret connects her to the Midnight Hour? And can she save both worlds before she runs out of sandwiches?

Eleven year old Emily has a rather tempestuous relationship with her mother – possibly understandable given her mother’s eccentric nature and maddening ways.  One particular day having been sent to bed after a row, Emily overhears a strange conversation between her parents referencing a mysterious letter that has arrived in the post and her mother’s estranged family. First her mother disappears and then her father, leaving Emily behind to try and save them both. So begins a fantastic adventure catapulting Emily into a world she didn’t even know existed, discovering unfathomable truths about not just her parents, but also herself and all those around her.

The Midnight Hour is children’s modern fantasy fiction at its best with a feisty heroine in Emily and a dazzling array of supporting characters. Emily is a bit of a troublemaker at times but at her heart, loves her family.  The city of the Night Folk is brilliantly described creating a strangely believable world with some of our most famous landmarks taking a central role in the narrative. Some seriously scary creatures and a particularly evil villainess make formidable foes for Emily to face, along with the help of her new found friends. The plot is well-balanced with equal amounts of humour, hair-raising scares, magical mayhem and a little bit of love.  Described as ‘Coraline’ meets ‘A Wrinkle in Time’, The Midnight Hour is a thoroughly enjoyable story for children aged 9+ and I’m already looking forward to reading the next adventure!

Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com

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

New review: Little Bird Flies by Karen McCombie

Karen McCombie’s fantastic books were always a popular choice when I was in the school library, with many pupils eagerly awaiting the latest title.  I expect the same will happen with Little Bird Flies, the first in a new middle grade series published by Nosy Crow, which will no doubt delight readers – especially if they happen to be fans of stories with a determined heroine and beautiful, historical settings!

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Little Bird Flies by Karen McCombie

Bridie lives on the remote Scottish island of Tornish, the youngest of three sisters. Although she loves her island, with its wild seas and big skies, she guiltily nurses a secret dream of flight – to America and the freedom of the New World.

But her family are struggling under the spiteful oppression of the new Laird, and it seems that even some of the Laird’s own household are desperate to leave. When the Laird’s full cruelty becomes apparent, there’s no more time for daydreams as Bridie needs to help the people she loves escape to safety.

Instantly compelling, with a bold and brave heroine, Little Bird Flies is a gripping and beautifully told historical drama. Bridie, or Little Bird as she is known, is a determined soul who dreams of escaping the life that is mapped out before her. Even though she is surrounded by a loving family and good friends she cannot help but feel there is adventure to be had away from her island home.  Resigned to the fact her father will always keep the promise he made to her dying mother, that her and her sisters will stay safely on the island, Bridie lives a simple life, never complaining. This is an admirable fact particularly in the light of her disability, having limbs that were damaged at birth. But little does Bridie know that the death of their kind and generous Laird will bring about more changes than even she could have dreamt of. With a new Laird in place and new people on the island bringing a taste of the outside world with them, it seems that Bridie might have her thirst for adventure and new experiences quenched.  Sadly, this is not to be; Bridie and her family draw together to escape what is a tyrannical regime, leaving everything they know behind them.

This is such a lovely story, with so much to admire. A wonderful narrative and utterly absorbing plot weave together a rich tapestry of life with a wonderful young heroine at it’s heart. Bridie is a passionate young girl, determined to deal with everything life throws at her – there is much to learn from her spirit! The love she and her family have for each other, despite their differences and in spite of the hardships they face, is so real.  Evoking the beautiful simplicity of a crofter’s existence alongside the harsh reality of Victorian times, Little Bird Flies is the start of what will be a very special series.

Find out more at www.karenmccombie.com and www.nosycrow.com

With thanks to Nosy Crow for sending me this book to read and review.

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BLOG TOUR: The Truth about Martians by Melissa Savage

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I’m delighted to be hosting today’s stop on the blog tour for The Truth about Martians by Melissa Savage. A brilliant story set against the backdrop of 1940s UFO sightings and featuring a wonderful cast of quirky characters, it’s packed full of Melissa’s trademark warmth and wit.  You can read my full review here. Melissa is a writer and therapist for children and families and today joins the blog to share a wonderful post with her thoughts on the healing power of stories. Welcome to the blog Melissa!

Story for Healing Hearts and Souls

By Melissa Savage 

In today’s everchanging world, anxiety is an increasingly prevalent diagnosis happening in our children. Which is why developing coping skills is more important today than ever before. How do we develop adaptive coping skills to traverse life’s difficulties and even more important make positive change in the world around us? There are many ways, one of which is through story. Story is who we are and how we heal. It is how we process being human on our journey through life and it always has been.

As a former child and family therapist, I’ve always been a proponent of bibliotherapy as a tool to use with children of all ages. It is the use of story for insight, growth and healing. I think as parents and protectors of children our first instinct is to shield them from all the negative things that go on in the world. However, in this information age, shielding them has become a somewhat impossible task. They live in a world that is anything but predictable or controllable or even stable or safe at times. How do we prepare our children at an appropriate age level, yet continue to protect them from what they are not ready to know? Stories can provide a safe environment to learn the challenges of finding solutions to our problems, coping with change or even standing by someone else who may be going through it. And story can inspire us.

In third grade I ordered a novel from the Scholastic book order form in school. It was called Don’t Hurt Laurie and it was a book about child abuse. I didn’t know about child abuse up until that point and the book reached me to my soul. In fourth grade I became a tutor for young children in our elementary school and in sixth grade I became a peer counselor. It was this story that also inspired me to become a child and family therapist later in life where I specialized in trauma and abuse of children.

I believe that through the safety of story, children can be exposed to life lessons in such a way that they are given the opportunity to gain insights, build coping skills, assist others and even be inspired to make a difference in the world. I see this concept being grasped by teachers, librarians and the publishing industry as well. Both Random House Children’s Books and Scholastic Books have developed resources for teachers to help enhance the learning experience when sharing issue driven books with the young reader. Whether it’s book clubs, book trailers and even empathy bingo, these resources are aimed at acceptance, insight into the differences of others, healing from loss, standing up to bullying and many other issues kids face.

I wish we lived in a time in which children didn’t need to know the things they do, however, they are exposed more now than ever. And it’s up to us to make sure they have the best tools in their toolbelt to endure, overcome and even be inspired to create positive change in the world around them.

THE TRUTH ABOUT MARTIANS by Melissa Savage out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House)

Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com and melissadsavage.com

Follow Melissa Savage on twitter @melissadsavage 

Don’t forget to check out the rest of the blog tour:

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Book of the Month: The Truth about Martians by Melissa Savage

book of the monthHere is the first Book of the Month for 2019! Set against the backdrop of the famous UFO Roswell site, The Truth about Martians, is a heart-warming tale of discovery exploring loss, friendship, family and – what else – aliens! I absolutely loved this quirky and original tale by Melissa Savage, author of the critically acclaimed Bigfoot Tobin & Me. 

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The Truth about Martians by Melissa Savage

Mylo knows there’s no such thing as Martians – at least until a flying saucer crash-lands near his home. And then he starts to hear a voice, asking for help. Desperate to be as brave as his older bother Obie – who passed away over a year ago – Mylo investigates the crash.  What he ends up discovering is more about friendship and the universe than he ever could have imagined.

Mylo’s life was turned upside down when his brother Obie died.  His Mum and Dad just aren’t the same and he is plagued by nightmares, with grief constantly threatening to overwhelm him.  Mylo’s best friend Dibs is thankfully a great distraction,  often staying over to escape his own difficult home life. Together, they are obsessed with comics and science-fiction, in particular Superman and discussing potential impending Martian invasion.  So when a real life UFO crash lands in the farm down the road, they know its up to them to investigate.  Mylo cannot ignore the voice calling for help, little realising that the decisions he now makes will change all their lives.

The Truth about Martians is not so much a story about discovering aliens; it’s a story about discovering your courage and the power of friendship.  Mylo is a great character with a truly believable voice.  His friendship with Dibs is so full of warmth it’s palpable, brought to life with humourous dialogue and pure heart.  Despite their various difficult family issues, they are typical boys complete with smelly feet jokes; bravado (Dibs); admiration for summer visitor Gracie Delgado (Mylo) and shared irritation with older boys, Diego and Spuds.  This convincing cast of characters and the fast-paced plot create a thoroughly engaging story.  Mylo doesn’t just find out the truth about Martians; he finds the truth about himself as he comes to terms with the loss of his older brother. He also realises that his best friend Dibs really needs his help and that people are not always what they seem.  Mylo discovers he has the power to help heal not just himself but those he loves – and help a Martian in distress. Courage isn’t always obvious and being brave doesn’t always look like Superman; The Truth about Martians highlights this sentiment brilliantly and leaves you feeling totally uplifted.

I will be hosting a stop on the blog tour for The Truth about Martians this week. See below for details about the tour starting tomorrow!

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Follow Melissa Savage on Twitter @melissadsavage 

The Truth about Martians by Melissa Savage is out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House) recommended for children aged 9+.

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