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:

EXCITING NEWS! 2022 Branford Boase Award Longlist announced!

Today sees the announcement of the 2022 Branford Boase Award Longlist! You may well have noticed on my blog that I am a HUGE fan of this Award. As the only Award that recognises both the author of a debut children’s book for seven year olds and upwards, and their editor, it’s totally unique. In addition, the Branford Boase is often a predictor of future success picking out talents at the start of their careers – think Meg Rosof, Mal Peet, Frank Cottrell Boyce to name a few!

Set up in memory of award-winning author Henrietta Branford and her editor Wendy Boase, one of the founders of Walker Books, the Award is the joint idea of Julia Eccleshare and Anne Marley. Julia is children’s director of the Hay Festival and a regular contributor to Radio 4’s Front Row and Open Book programmes. Anne was Head of Children’s, Youth & Schools Services for Hampshire Library & Information Service for many years. Julia says of this year’s Award:

‘..The pace of change in children’s books since the creation of the Branford Boase Award has been phenomenal and once again, we find debut authors covering new territory, encouraged and supported by their editors. We are pleased too to see independent publishers Guppy Books, Hope Road and Zuntold represented for the first time. As ever, our judges bring a wealth of experience, and we are looking forward to what is certain to be a very lively discussion at the shortlisting meeting.’

This year the Award, sponsored by Walker Books, has seen a record number of entries – 69 in total and from 30 publishers! These include own voice novels Rapids by Anna Bowles and The Amazing Edie Eckhart by Rosie Jones; Maggie Blue and the Dark World by Anna Goodall and The Boy who Made Everyone Laugh by Helen Rutter, both shortlisted for the Costa Children’s Book Award; and Femi Fadugba’s time-travel thriller The Upper World, currently in the works at Netflix. Amongst editors in the running are Fiona Kennedy, who won the inaugural prize in 2001 and is now up for a third award; Bella Pearson, also a two times winner though sharing the honours both times previously with David Fickling; and Usborne’s Rebeca Hill and Becky Walker who have both been shortlisted three times in the last four years, winning in 2018. View the full list here.

I don’t envy the task of the judges to whittle this list down – having had the honour of being on the judging panel in 2020, I know how tough it can be to choose from such talented work!

For more information about the award, including a full list of past winners, and the Henrietta Branford Writing Competition which runs alongside it. visit www.branfordboaseaward.org.uk .

STOP PRESS: EmpathyLab announce 2022 Read for Empathy Collection

I think we can all agree empathy has never been more needed as we face continued challenging times, and the world becomes even more complicated for children and young people to navigate.

EmpathyLab has announced its 2022 #ReadforEmpathy book collection, ahead of Empathy Day which takes place on 9th June. An expert judging panel has selected 60 books for 4-16 year-olds, each chosen to empower an empathy-educated generation:

“We’re in a golden age of children’s literature, coming just when we need
it most. Reading is a great way to raise a nourished, empathy-educated generation and helps combat the empathy deficit. Scientific research shows that identifying with fictional book characters helps readers better understand people in real-life; the collection features books with outstandingly crafted characters who will expand young people’s world view, helping them become more understanding of others and inspiring them to become socially active.”

The primary collection features 35 books for 4-11 year olds; the secondary collection has 25 books for 12-16 year olds and both collections featuring a whole host of brilliant, diverse authors and illustrators. The books feature themes that many readers will relate to – and many experiences they will be unfamiliar with, but all helping children build their empathy and understanding. Not only this, where these stories address issues such as climate concerns or homelessness, they will inspire positive action, even in the very young.

School communities can access useful guides free to parents and educators from the EmpathyLab website. The books in the #ReadforEmpathy collections are an ideal way to build empathy in school communities, with opportunities to start the conversation through stories that empower, educate, and engage all those who read them.

Ordering the books
The primary and secondary books can be bought through local independent bookshops and other retailers – instore or via bookshop.org. Sets of the primary and secondary books are available to buy from specialist children’s schools and libraries book supplier Peters – Visit peters.co.uk/empathy2022 to order.

Find out more at www.empathylab.uk.

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!