New review: The Worldquake series by Scarlett Thomas

On the blog today, a review of a series of books that have been on my radar for months, but it wasn’t until Book #3 arrived in the post that I took the opportunity to read them all! TheWorldquake series is set in a dystopian future where modern technology has been destroyed.  The non-magical world exists alongside the magical world, with opposing sides working to defeat the other. The story centres on Effie Truelove and her friends navigating their way through magic school and trying to save the universe! 

The Worldquake series by Scarlett Thomas

There are three titles in this brilliant fantasy middle grade series – Dragons Green, The Chosen Ones and Galloglass. Bursting with magic, the story follows Effie and her friends as they discover their magical powers, explore the Otherworld and battle against the Diberi who are intent on destroying the universe. Effie learns all about magic from her grandfather Griffin Truelove but even he couldn’t prepare her for what lies ahead.  When he disappears, he leaves her his library of very special books – which are more than just books; they hold the answers to everything (which of course made me love the story even more!).

It’s hard to sum up this fantastic series in just a short paragraph – there is so much in it and whilst Effie is the central character the supporting cast add plenty of dynamic to the twisting and turning plot. There’s human interest throughout such as dealing with step-parents, boring lessons, difficult teachers and finding friendships alongside the many fantasy elements of the narrative. As Effie and her friends discover their ‘kharacter’ – their unique magical personality and abilities – the plot thickens and nothing is as it seems. The magical realm beckons and Effie delves deeper into the Otherworld to find where she truly belongs. The Diberi threaten at every turn and at times, even Effie’s own father seems to be against her.

Each book builds the mystery creating a magical world you can’t wait to dive into again. With thrilling action and lots of humour, heart and heroism the Worldquake series will have you hooked until the final page.

Find out more at www.worldquake.co.uk .With thanks to Canongate for sending me these books to review. 

Bookchat: Q & A with M.G Leonard on the Branford Boase Award

BBA_LogoNext Thursday a whole host of the great and the good from the world of children’s books will gather to hear the announcement of this year’s winner of the Branford Boase Award. This year is the 20th anniversary of the award which is given annually to a first-time writer of an outstanding book for young people and also their editor, recognising the important contribution of the editor in identifying and nurturing new talent. Running alongside it is the Henrietta Branford Writing Competition which encourages writing talent in 19 year olds and under. 

M.G. Leonard Branford Boase winner 2017

I’m delighted to welcome past award winner M. G Leonard to the blog today for a bookchat about the Branford Boase Award.  M.G Leonard won the Branford Boase in 2017 for her brilliant debut Beetle Boy, along with her editors from Chicken House, Barry Cunningham and Rachel Leyshon.  Beetle Boy was the first in a trilogy, and M.G Leonard has since gone on to have huge success (read my review of Beetle Boy here.) Today she shares her thoughts on winning the award, the important relationship between author and editor and also her current projects!

Can you tell us what makes the Branford Boase Award so special? A debut novel is a rough diamond, and requires more input from an editor than any other book an author will write. It is a powerful collaboration, and this award is the only one to recognise this work. The Branford Boase Award has an amazing history of awarding writers who go on to be some of the most exciting authors out there telling stories for young people. It is the award that all writers want to win.

How did it feel to win the award and what difference has it made to you two years on? I am very proud to be a Branford Boase Award winner. It was the first major award that I won, and it is hugely encouraging to be told that you did a good job when you are floundering in a new industry. It was particularly lovely to have Rachel and Barry’s work celebrated, because Chicken House believed in Beetle Boy right from the start. Winning the award increased my confidence and creativity, and it’s ever so lovely when people announce you before your event and tell everyone that you won it. The Branford Boase Award is a hallmark of quality, a standard to live up to, and the finest club I’ve ever been in.

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Barry Cunningham described the relationship between author and editor “like your first girlfriend or boyfriend in how it shapes you”. How do you think working with both Barry and Rachel Leyshon has shaped you as an author? I think the relationship depends on the people in it. My work as an author is considerably shaped by my working for fifteen years in the theatre, however what Barry and Rachel taught me was the importance of keeping the action, the power and the decision making firmly in the hands of the children. This is an invaluable lesson, because it’s so easy to be in love with your creation, when really you need to be in love with your characters.

What advice would you have for aspiring authors working on their debut novel about developing a good relationship with their editor(s)? To the aspiring writer I would say, the editing process is painful and infuriating. You will doubt yourself and lose all objectivity, so you must trust your editor. They know the world of books far better than you, if this is your first. Read your edits. Step away from your manuscript and vent all your frustrations and anger at a wall, or a friend. And you will be angry, or upset, because we are all defensive about our creations and the role of the editor is to question and poke and cut. Your debut is an epic voyage and your editor has the map; you must journey alone, but you won’t get to the end without your editor’s help. Once the quest is complete you will feel an enormous debt of gratitude to your editor, because you will see your book is a far superior vessel for your story than when you first set out.

Can you share with us what you’re working on at the moment? I am writing a new series of books for Macmillan, called Adventures on Trains. The first book, The Highland Falcon Thief will be published in March 2020, and swiftly followed by a second in September. Harrison Beck, the protagonist, is an eleven-year-old from Crewe with a talent for drawing. When his uncle, a travel writer, takes him on the last journey of the royal steam train around the British Isles, he draws what he sees. When a priceless diamond necklace goes missing, Harrison realised there are clues in his pictures, and sets out to catch the thief. The books are a joyous celebration of trains, rail travel and landscape, as well as a damn good adventure. Each book in the series features Harrison and his Uncle having a new adventure on a different train in a different country. The second book is set in America, on the California Zephyr.

I have also written a picture book for Walker Books, illustrated by Daniel Rieley, that will be published in January 2020 called The Tale of a Toothbrush – a story of plastic in our oceans, which I’m very excited about, because the subject is very important to me.

With thanks to M.G Leonard for participating in this blog today!

 

You can find out more about M.G Leonard on her website www.mgleonard.com. Read all about Chicken House here www.chickenhousebooks.com and for more information about the award visit www.branfordboaseaward.org.uk

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New review: Scar by Alice Broadway

Scar by Alice Broadway

Picture a world where your every action, every deed and every significant moment in your life is tattooed on your skin forever. When you die, if you have lived a ‘good’ life your skin is removed and made into a book to be presented in a soul-weighing ceremony to your family. However if you have not lived a good life, your skin-book is burnt in a fire, condemning you in death and bringing shame on your family forever.

scarThat is the premise on which this YA trilogy is built and around which the dystopian world of Saintstone is created.  I absolutely loved the first two books in the series – Ink (review here) and Spark – so when Scar the third and final book arrived on my doorstep I couldn’t wait to read it. It doesn’t disappoint (and before I go any further – the cover art is just gorgeous on all three titles!).

With each episode, the heroine Leora has discovered more about herself, her past and indeed her future than she could ever have imagined.  From the day her father died, as secrets about him are revealed, all the doubts she has about her beliefs grow– especially in regards to those who choose not to live as marked – the Blanks – who are exiled to Featherstone.  By the third book, Leora has been through so much, heard so much truth alongside so many lies, her confusion and fear are palpable.  She has to challenge the very foundations on which her society is built even no matter the consequences. With her friends either missing or imprisoned- or perhaps not who they seem, it’s up to Leora to reveal the deception and expose the villainous leaders for who they really are. In Scar we see that Leora has not lost faith in herself and even though she faces her darkest moments, she finds hope.  A thoroughly fitting finale to a great series.

The Ink Trilogy is a brilliant exploration of how society can be split apart by differing beliefs and religion.  It explores how we share ourselves, our actions, thoughts and deeds with one another, drawing parallels with how people display everything about themselves on social media in our society. What imprint does this leave, even after we’re gone? What does this say about who we are and what we do?  People so often need something or someone to aspire to and can be so blinded by the images presented to them, they fail to see who that person really is.

The trilogy features themes of friendship, betrayal, love and family. The really clever use of beautifully written fables throughout demonstrates how tradition can hold us hostage but also help us find our way.  It also shows how the beliefs on which a society has been built can be reflected so differently depending on who is telling the story – comparing the respective beliefs of the people of Saintstone and Featherstone. In each book there are intriguing plot developments, well-written action sequences, lots of tension and some really emotive scenes, all creating a fantastic narrative.  The Ink Trilogy has everything you want in a YA series – a brilliant setting, great storytelling, compelling characters and an utterly thought-provoking narrative. 

Find out more www.alice-broadway.com. With thanks to Scholastic for sending me this book to review.

New review: Mouse and Mole by Joyce Dunbar illustrated by James Mayhew

When this gorgeous picture book, Mouse and Mole by Joyce Dunbar illustrated by James Mayhew, arrived through the post, I was instantly reminded of such classics as Wind in the Willows, Brambly Hedge and Peter Rabbit Originally published in 1993, I am very pleased to say the series is being republished by Graffeg. In addition to the original series of six titles, there are further unpublished stories, with Graffeg also planning to bring some of these into print in the future.

Author Joyce Dunbar is best known for her lively and quirky picture books stories. Many of her stories have been dramatised for the stage and as puppet shows. James Mayhew is an acclaimed illustrator, author, concert presenter and storyteller. James is the illustrator of the highly praised picture book Gaspard the Fox by BBC Radio 4 news presenter Zeb Soanes and the creator of the much-loved Katie and Ella Bella Ballerina series. They make a fantastic team bringing to life the wonderful world of Mouse and Mole.

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Mouse and Mole by Joyce Dunbar and James Mayhew

Mouse and Mole decide to take a picnic into the woods and set out their plan: cheese and cucumber sandwiches if it is a fine day. Or roasted chestnuts and toasted muffins in front of an apple wood fire if it is wild and wintry. But what will they do if it is an in-between sort of day?

This absolutely delightful picture book series will no doubt enchant a new generation of young readers. And who couldn’t be enchanted by the wonderful adventures of Mouse and Mole so beautifully told and illustrated? The narrative captures the exploits and humour to be found in their daily life perfectly – from deciding what to eat to tidying up to even just having a chat. Each spread features wonderful illustrations bringing to life these simple adventures just as you imagine them to be.

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Warm and comforting as the softest blanket, Mouse and Mole should be on every child’s bookshelf ready to be enjoyed independently or shared with a grown up!

The first four titles, Mouse and Mole, Mouse and Mole Have a Party, Happy Days for Mouse and Mole and A Very Special Mouse and Mole published in May 2019.

Find out more at  www.jamesmayhew.co.uk and www.joycedunbar.com .With thanks to Graffeg for sending me a proof copy to review.

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New reviews: great books for June!

I can’t actually believe we’re almost half way through the year.  June sees another raft of fabulous new books publishing for children. Here are four great new titles which published just this week. 

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The Big Stink by Lucy Freegard

Charlie, a notorious cheese thief, is a mouse on a mission. Ever since he was little, he had got in spots of bother with the law. He had pinched Parmesan, crept off with Camembert and robbed Roquefort! Charlie is planning his biggest mission yet – to steal a cheesy sculpture from The Museum of Art! After a hair-raising break-in – creeping past cameras, dodging guards and avoiding gates – he reaches his stinky prize. But Officer Rita is soon on the case. Will Charlie get away with it this time?

The Big Stink is a gorgeous picture book about a rather naughty but very loveable mouse who takes his love of cheese a bit too far! He’s stolen every kind of cheese but it’s going to take major planning to ensure his heist of The Stinker is successful. You can’t help but feel sorry for Charlie mouse as his obsession gets the better of him and he’s caught out by a brilliant detective cat.  Delightful illustrations bring this witty story to life and cement Lucy Freegard’s reputation as a fantastic storyteller in both words and pictures.

With thanks to Pavilion for sending me this book to review. Find out more at www.lucyfreegard.com

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The Dragon in the Library by Louie Stowell illustrated by Davide Ortu

Kit can’t STAND reading. She’d MUCH rather be outside, playing games and getting muddy, than stuck inside with a book. But when she’s dragged along to the library one day by her two best friends, she makes an incredible discovery – and soon it’s up to Kit and her friends to save the library … and the world.

The Dragon in the Library is a fabulous story perfect for young middle grade readers who love magic and aren’t afraid of dragons! The adventures of Kit and her two friends leap off the page, as Kit discovers she’s actually a young wizard and that books are magic portals that can transport you literally into a story.  The library and all its books suddenly aren’t as dull as Kit had always thought- adventure beckons! And then there’s the evil villain who oozes bad-ness and is determined to steal the magic; it’s up to Kit and her friends to save the day. Brilliant black and white illustrations throughout bring the story to life. With relatable characters, a very cool librarian and a wonderful underlying theme of the magic of books, The Dragon in the Library has all the ingredients for a fantastic adventure-  what more could you want?!

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

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The Unexpected Find by Toby Ibbotson

When a storm hits a small and sleepy town, it ravages every living thing. But storms don’t just destroy, they uncover. And when a young boy discovers a mysterious object that has lay hidden beneath a centuries-old tree, he instantly knows that it’s special. What he doesn’t know is that his unexpected find will unite him with a girl searching for her missing father and trigger a series of events that will see them travelling across Europe under the most unusual circumstances.

The Unexpected Find is a beautifully written story about a unique journey of discovery for older middle grade readers.  Introducing very different characters in William, a wonderful young boy with Asperger’s who has found a mysterious object under an upturned tree; Judy, a determined girl who is searching for her missing father and Mr Balderson, a totally endearing, one-eyed, cross dresser who becomes their guide and takes everything in his stride. Their unexpected journey takes them all the way to Norway, ending up on a quiet farm where they meet the somewhat brooding Stefan and his grandmother.  Themes of family, friendship and seeking asylum – in all manner of ways – are central to the tale which simmers with unanswered questions right till the end.  Totally original, and utterly absorbing as each character makes new discoveries and is able to find their answers in the most beautiful but unlikely setting. The Unexpected Find is a story for anyone who wants to read something a bit different and indeed, discover the unexpected.

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

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The Good Thieves by Katherine Rundell

Fresh off the boat from England, Vita Marlowe has a job to do. Her beloved grandfather Jack has been cheated out of his home and possessions by a notorious conman with Mafia connections. Seeing Jack’s spirit is broken, Vita is desperate to make him happy again, so she devises a plan to outwit his enemies and recover his home. She finds a young pickpocket, working the streets of the city. And, nearby, two boys with highly unusual skills and secrets of their own are about to be pulled into her lawless, death-defying plan.

The Good Thieves is a thrilling middle grade heist full of heart and heroism.  The story transports you to 1920s New York in all its glory with the excitement of future possibilities alongside corruption and danger – it’s truly palpable. Young heroine Vita is on a mission for justice for her grandfather who has been cheated out of his home and fortune by a dangerous conman.  Armed only with incredible throwing skills, borne out of a childhood blighted by polio which left her with a damaged foot, and a natural affinity for making plans, Vita seeks the help of three fellow misfits to carry out the heist.  Her love for her grandfather gives her fierce determination and ensures a real depth to the narrative. The incredible plot has so much to admire, full of twists and with just the right amount of threat to keep you on the edge of your seat, The Good Thieves is storytelling at it’s best.

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

All of these books are now available to buy from any good bookshop.

 

 

 

 

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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