New review: Hope Against Hope by Sheena Wilkinson

It is 1921. Ireland has been at war for two years. Communities are torn apart by bitter hatred – and now a border splits the island.  Polly runs away to Helen’s Hope hostel in Belfast, a feminist space where young women live and work together – a haven of tolerance and diversity in a fractured city.  But some people hate Helen’s Hope and its progressive values. How can a few girls stand up to hatred – when some of it comes from within their own walls? And the hostel is violently attacked, how can Polly keep hope alive?

Hope Against Hope by Sheena Wilkinson is a gritty and heartfelt story set against the backdrop of the history behind the Irish border. Timely and very relevant for today with the many prejudices that sadly still exist in our society and political debate ongoing around Brexit, Hope Against Hope paints a very real picture of life for Polly and her contemporaries. The well-paced narrative engages you from the start as do the characters, all of whom have their own worries – some more serious than others – to deal with and flaws to face up to. Helen’s Hope provides the space and opportunity for Polly to re-examine her life, in the context of much wider social and political issues, perhaps giving her a perspective she might not otherwise have seen. You can’t help but feel this is something we can all learn from. A great coming of age story for teens.

This is the third historical novel by Sheena Wilkinson focusing on young women growing up during times of social and political change. Find out more at http://littleisland.ie/books/hope-against-hope/.

With thanks to Little Island for sending me this book to review.

New review: Wulfie: Stage Fright by Lindsay J Sedgwick illustrated by Josephine Wolff

Wulfie is just like a puppy – fluffy and adorable. But unlike a puppy, he talks. And he’s purple. His favourite food is smelly socks. he can be small as a snail or big as a bear. He’s sweet and loyal and he’s Libby’s new best friend. Libby longs to star in the school play, and with Wulfie’s help she just might get a chance to outshine her big, bag step-brother, Rex.

Wulfie: Stage Fright by Lindsay J Sedgwick illustrated by Josephine Wolff is the first in a new series featuring a sweet female protagonist named Libby and the perfect best friend in Wulfie. It’s a charming story about families, friendship and being brave even when you’re afraid. Libby has a Cinderella-esque life with a horrid step-mother, even more horrid step-brother and an absent-minded father. So when her chance to shine in the school play comes, it’s Wulfie to the rescue! He makes everything better and although causes a little bit of trouble on the way, it’s Wulfie who helps her outsmart her mean step-brother who always wants to spoil things. You can always tell well-drawn characters when you really don’t like them (and when you do of course!) – Rex and his mother are truly horrid and you can’t wait for Libby to win the day! Fun and lively illustrations bring the action and diverse cast of characters to life. With just the right amount of mischief and lots of laughs Wulfie: Stage Fright is sure to delight young readers and have them cheering for an encore!

Find out more at www.littleisland.ie.

With thanks to Little Island for sending me this book to review.

BLOG TOUR: Moonchild: Voyage of the Lost and Found by Aisha Bushby illustrated by Rachael Dean

It’s the final stop on the blog tour for the first in a magical new middle-grade series, inspired by the Arabian Nights. Beautifully told and full of imagination, Moonchild: Voyage of the Lost and Found by Aisha Bushby illustrated by Rachael Dean will transport you to a world of wonder!

We all have our stories. And if we feed them, some may grow all the way to the moon…..Magic has always been part of twelve-year old Amira’s life, even though her world frowns on it. When a mysterious storm begins to rage and Amira’s magical cat companion goes missing, she decides to set sail. An extraordinary adventure awaits – one that will change Amira’s life forever…..

Aisha lives on board a dhow with her sea witch mothers and her jinn, a magical cat called Namur. They only visit the land to make their living selling tonics in the souks and buy supplies. Amira has spent all her life at sea so when her mothers tell her she is old enough to go to the souk, she cannot wait. Amira’s magical ability – to read people’s emotions through her sense of smell – is somewhat overwhelmed as she navigates the stalls and helps her mother. Little does she know a chance encounter with a boy called Leo, who also has a jinn in the form of a magical goldfish, will start to unravel the mysteries Amira has been pondering. Not least why Namur, who usually only appears when Amira is angry, has been visible ever since a dangerous storm arrived on the Sahir Penninsula. So begins the most marvellous but dangerous adventure, leading Amira to discover the truth about her magic and rescue her beloved jinn.

Moonchild: Voyage of the Lost and Found is a captivating tale, drawing you in to Amira’s world. Magic and mystery abounds with each page a discovery in itself, featuring beautiful descriptions, heartfelt emotions and fantastic characters. The use of emotions and how we deal with them is present throughout, shining a light on the importance of accepting how we feel. I loved the Arabian Nights-inspired narration and invitations to accompany Amira as she embarks on her quest to find her jinn and the truth she so desperately seeks. Each character has a story to tell, embedding a sense of myth throughout and the narrative cleverly intertwines these stories to create a tapestry of adventure.  Accompanied by wonderful illustrations bringing Amira and her world to life, Moonchild will transport you to a place so full of enchantment you won’t want to leave!

With thanks to Egmont 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 blog tour!

BLOG TOUR: Return to Roar by Jenny McLachlan illustrated by Ben Mantle

Come and join a marvellous adventure in Return to Roar! Today is the final stop on the blog tour for this brilliant new book by Jenny MacLachlan and illustrated by Ben Mantle, taking us back to the Land of Roar with twins Rose and Arthur. It’s not always that a sequel is as good as the first in a series, but this one definitely is – you will not be disappointed! I’m delighted to share my review and even more excited to share a Q & A with author Jenny McLachlan!

Twins Rose and Arthur are so excited to be going back to Roar, their magical world of dragons, ninja wizards and anything else they can imagine! But then the twins receive a message from arch-enemy Crowky. WHAT’S IN THE BOX? The Box contains the things that scare the twins the most. If Crowky gets hold of it, he could use it to conjure up Rose and Arthur’s worst nightmares and destroy Roar….FOREVER.

In Return to Roar, Rose and Arthur are spending half term with their Grandad – at least that’s what their parents think! But Grandad knows better and he’s more than happy for the twins to ‘stay’ with him and travel back to Roar through the magic portal – the Z-bed in the attic! Little do they know, there’s an even bigger adventure than last time awaiting them – bigger than flying on dragons, catching unicorns and swimming with merfolk. Before they know it, Rose and Arthur are doing battle again with evil villain, a terrifying scarecrow called Crowky, who is determined to destroy Roar forever! Rose, Arthur and their friends, Wininja the wizard and Mitch the Mermaid must travel to The End and find The Box before Crowky – and a new fearsome villain – wreaks havoc on their imaginary world – and their home too!

Return to Roar is a storytelling delight, celebrating the wonder of imagination and the power of friendship. With great character development, brilliant new faces to meet and places to visit, along with some really heart-warming themes, it makes a fantastic sequel to Land of Roar (review here). Rose and Arthur have become closer now they’re a bit older and their support for each other – with a bit of healthy sibling rivalry – is great to see. The inhabitants of Roar are fantastic and make you want to join the fun. In amongst the adventure and excitement, there is a subtle theme of how to deal with bullies running through the narrative and some really wonderful moments of compassion and kindness. All in all, Return to Roar is a wonderful read, with brilliant illustrations throughout capturing the action. If I were you, I’d get your hands on a copy now – don’t miss your chance to visit Roar!

Jenny McLachlan was kind enough to share some insights into writing Return to Roar so read on to find out more!

How did you find travelling back to Roar?! Was it more difficult than the first visit?It was actually! I had no problem describing Roar and stepping back into Arthur’s shoes, and it was absolutely brilliant meeting Win and Grandad again, but there is quite a lot going on in the plot: Rose has a secret, the children go on a treasure hunt across Roar, and I introduce two new characters. It’s all go!

There’s some fantastic new places to visit and characters to meet in Return to Roar. What was your inspiration for them? ike ALrthur, I’m a big fan of Frozen Planet and this inspired The End. I’ve got a beautifully illustrated book that accompanied David Attenborough’s series and I spent a lot of time gazing at it! Mitch is inspired by lots of my favourite females: my daughters, my sister, my mum. She was probably the character that appeared most fully formed in my head. Some characters require a bit of work, others seem to have always existed. Mitch was just waiting to be written down. In fact, she was originally in The Land of Roar – I think I was very keen to include her! – but I took her out to save for the sequel.

Crowky is back and badder than ever – he makes a great villain and surely belongs in the children’s fiction villains’ hall of fame! Who is/are your favourite villain(s) in children’s fiction? I really love properly scary villains. I think my favourite villain in children’s fiction is probably Miss Trunchball. I took my daughters to watch the musical Matilda! when my youngest was only six. You should have seen her face when Miss Trunchball appeared! It was touch and go for a moment, and I wondered if we were going to have to make a speedy exit, but she wasn’t going anywhere! I found Moon-Face in The Far-Away Tree very scary, although I don’t think he was supposed to be. I wonder if he inspired Crowky…

I love Mitch the Mermaid – what a great character – (who also happens to have lots of tattoos)! If you were going to have any tattoos what would it be and why? Writing Return to Roar did involve a fair amount of tattoo Googling so I have given this some thought! I would have a beautiful fox somewhere I could always see it – my arm? I love foxes. I did wonder if I could ever get Mitch’s map tattoo . . . it’s quite big though. I don’t think I’m brave enough!

You draw on Rose’s experiences with her school friends – and you show real compassion in her actions right at the end. Why did you include this theme in the story and what do you hope readers will draw from it? I, like a lot of people, experienced some bullying at school. When it happens it’s absolutely terrifying. I can completely understand why it would scare Rose so much, and also why she would keep it a secret from Arthur. I really didn’t enjoy the first three years at secondary school. It felt like an unsafe place. Some days, I felt like Rose did when she was being chased by Hati. It’s very difficult to stand up to bullies. I didn’t want to offer a glib solution to Rose’s problems, but I did want her to, ultimately, triumph. If there is one thing I would like readers to draw from Rose’s experience it would be to start listening to that voice inside. The one that, when you know you are being spoken to unkindly, says, this isn’t right, and rather than keeping quiet about it, speaks out.

Thank you for participating and I cannot wait to read Book 3!

Find out more at https://jennymclachlan.com/ and https://www.benmantle.co.uk/.

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

Guest Post: Jamie Littler author and illustrator of Frostheart

We have a guest on the blog today! None other than the author of the brilliant fantasy adventure Frostheart, Jamie Littler, who was recently shortlisted for the Branford Boase Book Award along with his editor, Naomi Colthurst. Frostheart is his first published book as an author/illustrator. Described by The Bookseller as a “A rip-roaring action adventure, full of humour, heart and unforgettable characters”, it holds a well-deserved spot on the shortlist!

Jamie shares his top tips for writing today, with some brilliant insights into what’s important for anyone wanting to get into writing. Welcome to the blog Jamie!

“I was thrilled to be asked to write a guest post for the Book Activist and to share some of the tips that helped me to write my fantasy-adventure book, Frostheart.

It’s definitely the question I get asked the most: ‘Do you have any advice for someone who wants to get into writing?’ Now, I could go on about making sure you read lots, (which is important!), or learning how to use proper grammar (which is always nice, I suppose), but those aren’t the things that really helped me to write my book. No, the biggest, most spectacularly important secret to writing a story is this: have fun. That’s it – that’s the secret! Thank you for reading, it’s been an absolute pleasure. Oh, you want an explanation?

Okay, here goes.

I’ve been an illustrator for ten years, but my dream was always to write my own stories as well as to draw them. And I tried and tried, but my stories were always turned down by the publishers. I could’ve made wallpaper out of all the rejection letters I received (and did – but believe me, it’s a very ugly room to be in). At first, the rejections were hard to hear. “You know that story you wrote, the one you worked really, really hard on? Yeah, well, it’s rubbish.” I mean, they were never quite so rude, but that was the general gist of it. And sadly, they were right. I still had a lot to learn, and there were many ways my writing needed to improve. But practice makes perfect.

So, I kept on trying. I wrote another story, and another. And another after that. Some will never leave my work-in-progress drawer (aka the bin), others I was super proud of, but they were never to be. Gradually, the rejections began to change in tone. They now said that the writing was fine, the idea was good, but something was still not clicking. I was banging my head against a wall, trying to figure out what I was doing wrong. Maybe I wasn’t meant to be an author after all?

One day, I was talking to another author about my ideas. I asked which one they thought would give me the biggest chance of getting a publishing deal. They said it didn’t matter what they thought, I had to write the story that meant something to me. Deep down, they said, I knew which one I wanted to write. And it was then that it hit me. I’d been so desperate to get my story turned into a book, I’d been writing what I thought I should’ve been writing, instead of what I truly wanted to write. I’d been looking at what books were popular at the time; the kinds of books I should try to make. But those books meant something to the authors who wrote them, they didn’t mean anything to me.

I vowed to write a story that I would’ve wanted to read, the type of book that kept me turning the pages, something that filled me with excitement, that felt so enjoyable that it couldn’t possibly be considered actual work. I vowed to have fun, even if what I was writing wasn’t the most popular type of book at the time. And if a few other readers enjoyed it to, then all the better.

The next story I wrote became Frostheart, my first published book as an author/illustrator. Writing a story is personal. Try not to focus on what others say a good story should be. If you make something that you enjoy writing, it will shine through on the pages, and the readers will be whisked away by your passion and enthusiasm. They will fall in love with your characters, they will gasp at what happens to them, and they will stay up late to reach the last page. Grammar, spelling, all of that comes later. What’s important is that you’re writing the story you want to tell.

Oh, and try not to make wallpaper out of your rejection letters, it really isn’t a great look.”

With thanks to Jamie for his brilliant advice! Frostheart is published by Puffin Books. Find out more about the Branford Boase Book Award Shortlist here and visit the website here.