Category Archives: Book review

BLOG TOUR: Circus Maximus: Rivals on the Track by Annelise Gray

It’s my stop on the blog tour for the new title in Circus Maximus series set in Ancient Rome, that has all the right ingredients to create a thrilling adventure! Written by Annelise Gray, published by Zephyr, Circus Maximus: Rivals on the Track can be read as a standalone but picks up where the first book, Race to the Death, left the action. In addition to sharing my thoughts about the book, I’m delighted to host a guest post from the author focused on her five favourite women in Roman history.

Circus Maximus: Rivals on the Track by Annelise Gray

Dido is the only girl ever to have raced to victory at the Circus Maximus, Rome’s greatest sporting arena. Now she and her beloved horse, Porcellus, are in hiding, and the Emperor Caligula has put a price on their heads. Can she outwit the Emperor and his bounty hunters?  And will a shocking family secret stop her in her tracks or spur her on to make a daring return to the track, helped by a one-eyed mare with a heart as brave as her own?

Get ready for a heart-stopping adventure that will draw you in to the streets of Ancient Rome and have you cheering for Dido’s victory throughout. Drawing an utterly believable picture of the time period, you can hear the cheers of the crowds, feel the heat of the racetrack and almost see the horses, as Dido enters the stadium once more. Each character is wonderfully portrayed and with adventure and heart on every page, Dido’s story of bravery and determination as she pursues the impossible will keep you hooked. More than this, the weaving narrative builds a plot centred on family, friendship and healing past hurts, with a climatic ending that will have you on the edge of your seat.

I’m really pleased to share a guest post from author Annelise Gray. Welcome to the blog Annelise!

My 5 Favourite Women in Roman History

When I had the idea for a novel about a female charioteer set in ancient Rome, I knew that I would be imagining into existence a character who never existed in history, even though I would love to believe she could have done. Ancient Rome was a man’s world, no two ways about it, and women were expected to play their part in it by being seen a little, and heard not at all. That said, there were women who emerged from the shadows and made their mark on Roman history. Here are five of my favourites.

Cloelia

For the Romans, courage (‘virtus’) was a manly quality. The legendary figure of Cloelia proved an exception to that rule. The story goes that during the sixth century BCE, when the Romans were at war with their Etruscan neighbours, Cloelia was taken hostage but escaped and led her fellow female captives to freedom by swimming across the river Tiber. She was later returned to her captors but their king was so impressed with her bravery that he set her and some other hostages free. In tribute to Cloelia’s courage, the Romans are said to have set up a statue of her on horseback – an honour usually reserved for men. Leila Rasheed has a retelling of Cloelia’s story for children coming out this year – The Bravest Roman Of All  – which I’m really looking forward to as I loved her novel Empire’s End: A Roman Story.

Hortensia

In a world where speaking was a man’s job, Hortensia is remarkable as one of the few women from ancient Rome known and celebrated for her eloquence. She was born in the first century BCE, the daughter of Cicero’s great courtroom rival Quintus Hortensius Hortalus, and she lived through one of the most politically tumultuous periods in Roman history. Two years after the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44BCE, at the height of the campaign against Caesar’s assassins, Hortensia made a speech in the Roman forum in which she argued that women should not be taxed for wars of men’s making.

Caenis

Born a slave and later given her freedom, Caenis’s story – as the novelist Lindsey Davis puts it – is the archetypal ‘secretary to boardroom’ plot. During the 30sCE, she was a loyal attendant of Antonia, the mother of Emperor Claudius. After her mistress’s death, Caenis became a lover of Vespasian, a rising political star who would go on to become emperor in 70CE. Roman law forbade Vespasian to marry a freedwoman and so he chose another bride. But after his wife’s death, and in what some have seen as evidence of an enduring love, Vespasian invited Caenis to live with him and she was said to have been his empress in all but name. Davis’ novel, The Course of Honour, is about the relationship between Vespasian and Caenis.

Boudicca

Better known to some as Boadicea, this British queen of the Roman era is one of history’s great rebels. Her husband, Prasutagus, was a king of the Iceni tribe who co-operated with the Romans after they invaded Britain in 43CE. But when Prasutagus died and Boudicca protested that the Romans had ignored his will, which stipulated that his wife and daughters should inherit half of his possessions, she was publicly flogged and her daughters raped. In response, Boudicca led a coalition of forces against the occupying army, razing several towns to the ground, including Camulodunum (Colchester) which was then the Roman capital of Britain. Although she was eventually defeated, Boudicca’s warrior-queen spirit has never been forgotten and she is commemorated with a famous statue near the Palace of Westminster.

Julia Domna

Born in Syria and dubbed ‘the philosopher empress’ in recognition of her patronage of some of the leading literary, philosophical and scientific figures of her age, Julia Domna is one of the most interesting women in Roman imperial history. Her husband Septimius Severus, who ruled Rome from 193 to 211, was the empire’s first African-born emperor and Julia Domna was said by ancient historians to have a powerful (and generally positive) political influence over him. Sadly, the same couldn’t be said for her relationship with her son Caracalla – a cruel and bloodthirsty emperor very much in the mould of his first century predecessor Caligula (who plays a key role as Dido’s antagonist in my Circus Maximus books.)

Find out more about Circus Maximus and the author at https://www.annelisegray.co.uk/. With thanks to Fritha Lindqvist and Zephyr for sending me this book to review and inviting me to participate in this blog tour. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the tour:

BLOG TOUR: Mayor Bunny’s Chocolate Town by Elys Dolan

Spring is in the air – just – so it’s a good time to join the campaign trail with Elys Dolan’s new book, Mayor Bunny’s Chocolate Town, published by Oxford Children’s Books. It’s my stop on the blog tour for this delightful picture book which is sure to put a spring in your step!!

Mayor Bunny’s Chocolate Town by Elys Dolan

Mr Bunny is back . . . and this time he’s running for mayor. Coop Town needs some urgent repairs-and Mr Bunny is promising to make it great again. At first, the chicken electorate is wowed by Mr Bunny’s promises of new chocolate houses, new chocolate parks, new chocolate swimming pools-as well as his bold claim that chocolate will repel hungry foxes. But what will happen when the truth comes home to roost?

Award-winning author illustrator Elys Dolan is back with the sequel to the Lollies prize-winning Mr Bunny’ s Chocolate Factory, in what is sure to be another hit! Get ready for chocolate-fuelled fun and games, as Mr Bunny does everything he can to win the chicken’s vote.

Unfortunately, instead of thinking what he can really do to help the town, Mr Bunny just wants to be in charge, and that means resorting to ‘dirty’ tricks to win the vote. His rival, the much-more-sensible chicken, Debbie, is very disapproving and so are lots of others including the rather wonderful, quality-control unicorn, Edgar. Mr Bunny finally gets what he wants, but when his problem-solving solution of a massive delivery of chocolate for the town fails spectacularly, it’s up to Debbie to clean up the rather waspy mess. Whilst we’re probably a little disappointed chocolate really isn’t the answer to everything, we can see that Debbie is the best chicken for the job!

Mayor Bunny’s Chocolate Town is a tale of being careful what you wish for, as Mr Bunny learns some important lessons about what it means to really be in charge and care for your home town. Wonderfully illustrated with a lively and entertaining narrative, and some equally lively and entertaining characters, children will fall in love with Mr Bunny all over again, even if he is a bit naughty!

Find out more at Oxford Children’s Books and follow Elys Dolan on Twitter. With thanks to the publisher for inviting me to participate in this blog tour – don’t forget to check out the rest of the tour running all this week:

BLOG TOUR: The Worst Class in the World Dares You! by Joanna Nadin illustrated by Rikin Parekh

It’s publication day for The Worst Class in the World Dares You by Joanna Nadin and Rikin Parekh and I’m thrilled to be hosting today’s stop on the blog tour for this hilarious book, along with a celebratory GIVEAWAY!

The Worst Class in the World Dares You! by Joanna Nadin and illustrated by Rikin Parekh

4B is the WORST Class in the World! But best friends Stanley and Manjit don’t care. They have a foolproof plan to catch NITS and beat everyone else at DARES! It might just mean a lot of mayhem……

If you haven’t met the Worst Class in the World yet, now is the time! Featuring not one, but TWO adventures in one book, words and illustrations combine brilliantly to bring to life the adventures of 4B and it’s somewhat hapless, but loveable inhabitants. In book three of the series, this standalone title is sure to entertain readers young and old!

You only have to read the wonderfully funny descriptions of each character from St Regina’s Primary at the start of the book to know you’re in for a treat (I particularly like ‘Harvey Barlow – Eater of many biscuits. Sometimes gets mistaken for a Year 6... – love him already!) Headteacher Mrs Bottomley-Blunt, who thinks learning should absolutely NOT be fun doesn’t stand a chance against this lot. Neither really does the class teacher, Mr Nidget, who works tirelessly to help 4B find what they’re good at and who’s motto of mending everything with kindness doesn’t always work.

Narrated by Stanley, the two adventures in this book, ‘Nits‘ and ‘Dares‘, demonstrate the amazing imaginations he and his best friend Manjit have, as they come up with yet another FOOLPROOF plan that is highly likely to get them into trouble. And usually breaks some, if not all, of Mrs Bottomley-Blunt’s 125 Rules! Or makes her create another one. As someone who has worked in schools, I am sure I may have met a few of these characters before, in some, manner shape or form!

Joanna Nadin does a great job of capturing school antics and all the ups and downs of school life; even the awkward bits, like nit-epidemics or parents like Lionel’s mum who believes school uniforms block the imagination (I’d love to meet Lionel’s mum!), often with hilarious results. Add to this Rikin Parekh’s brilliantly expressive illustrations, it’s a recipe for success. With laugh-out-loud moments galore, The Worst Class in the World Dares You! is sure to lighten a dull day, not just for young readers, but for grown-ups too (especially the ones who work with children!).

Don’t forget to enter the GIVEAWAY on Twitter and check out the rest of the blog tour:

With thanks to Bloomsbury for sending me this book to review and Fritha for inviting me to participate in the blog tour and giveaway!

New reviews: Festive reads for the holidays!

There is a plethora of new children’s books to choose from for festive reading. In addition to Christmas classics like The Night Before Christmas, A Christmas Carol or The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe the following stories are sure to delight and entertain over the holidays.

Picture Books

Santa’s New Sleigh by Caroline Crowe and Jess Pauwels takes you on a delightful colourful, rhyming ride, as Santa’s sleigh breaks down and all the elves must come together to try and save Christmas! They try everything from skiing to polar bears to no avail. But one little elf has the right idea and soon Santa is able to take to the skies and bring Christmas to everyone. Festive fun abounds with lively, humourous illustrations bringing it all to life. Published by Faber.

Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam in Santa’s Stolen Sleigh by Tracey Corderoy and Steven Lenton is another fun-filled Santa story, but this time it’s the elves who are in trouble as they come down with spots and can’t finish getting the presents ready! Luckily, baking duo Shifty and Sam are on hand to help Santa, along with a very naughty polar bear who just wants to fly the sleigh. Watch out for some magical mix-ups as baking ingredients are mistaken for flying dust! A sweet treat for everyone to enjoy at Christmas time. Published by Nosy Crow.

The Christmas Pine by Julia Donaldson and Victoria Sandøy is a magical picture book following the story of a little tree with a very special destiny. Based on the true story of how we come to have a Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square, this utterly delightful tale is full of nostalgia and the magic of Christmas. With a mesmerising rhyming narrative and Beautifully drawn atmospheric illustrations, The Christmas Pine is sure to be a classic for years to come. Published by Alison Green Books.

Middle Grade

Wishyouwas The Tiny Guardian of Lost Letters by Alexandra Page illustrated by Penny Neville-Lee is another story destined for classic status! This timeless tale transports you to a secret underground world full of magic and wonder, as we discover Wishyouwas, a Sorter who makes sure lost letters reach their destinations. With a brave heroine in Penny Black and beautifully described world of postboxes and pens, Wishyouwas is a charming adventure, perfect for Christmas time. You’ll never look at a postbox in the same way again! Published by Bloomsbury .

A Secret in Time by Sally Nichols is the fourth adventure in this highly enjoyable time-slip series. This time brother and sister, Alex and Ruby, head back to the winter of 1947 through the magic mirror in their Aunt’s house. There, they meet the harsh reality of life after World War 2 and have to solve a mystery involving a missing family heirloom. Adventure abounds and historical detail brilliantly brings the time period to life for young middle-grade readers, creating a wintry story for readers to escape in. Published by Nosy Crow.

Tinsel: The Girls Who Invented Christmas by Sibeal Pounder brings more festive heroines to life in a story celebrating friendship and Christmas in equal measure, and giving a twist on the origin tale of Santa Claus. Blanche Claus is homeless on the streets of Victorian London when she receives her first ever Christmas gift – a magical bauble. So begins a madcap adventure that will see Blanche making new friends and finding magic she couldn’t have possibly imagined! So much so, Blanche wants to share her festive dreams and wishes with all children. Sleigh rides, the North Pole, elves, mince pies – there’s more Christmas than you can shake a stick at, turned on it’s head with laugh-out-loud results and lots of love. Previously reviewed in hardback, now published in paperback by Bloomsbury.

The Christmas Carrolls by Mel Taylor-Bessent and illustrated by Selom Sunu is this year’s ultimate festive read, spreading much-needed Christmas cheer through every page! Holly Christmas and her family celebrate Christmas every day, which is fine until Holly starts a new school. Little does she realise the challenges that await her as she dons her Santa backpack and ready’s herself to share Christmas carols – in September! Discover the power of true Christmas spirit and kindness, in a story that is bursting with festive fun, as Holly battles to save her own Christmas cheer and that of her school’s too. Perfect for everyone who loves Christmas – and those who don’t too! Published by Farshore.

With thanks to Alison Green Books, Bloomsbury, Faber, Farshore and Nosy Crow for sending me these books to review. They will be donated to my local foodbank in time for Christmas!

New reviews: Early readers with Bloomsbury Education

Looking for stories to support young readers, building their independence and reading stamina? Now’s the time to try the Bloomsbury Early Readers series supporting children aged 6 and up with great stories written by award-winning authors and illustrators.

Featuring adventures told with humour and fun, to retellings of Shakespeare, myths and legends, to contemporary stories that will engage, these books are ideal for those children just starting to develop their own reading tastes and independence. Engaging tiles – such as Scratch and Sniff; Ping and the Missing Ring or The Night the Moon Went Out grab attention and the series features a range of genres and topics, in accessible formats and with diverse characters.

There are also discussion points and online guided reading notes written by the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE) for added support, either at home or in the classroom. For those children who aren’t quite ready for full-blown chapter books, this series is a great option and one they can work through at their own pace. The book banding is helpful as a guide, but it’s always important to remember that children’s reading skills develop individually and not necessarily in line with banding.

A series that will engage and entertain as well as support reading skills development, these are great for the classroom and school library, find out more here.

With thanks to Bloomsbury Books for sending me these books to review.