BLOG TOUR: The Fire Maker by Guy Jones


Fire Maker

The Fire Maker by Guy Jones

Alex loves magic – its glamour, tricks and illusions. He’s good at it, too: he’s reached the semi-finals of a prestigious competition for young magicians. But when he stumbles into strange Mr Olmos’s back garden while running from his former best friend, Alex sees something he can’t explain: three tiny flames floating in the air. Fire magic. Real magic. Soon, Alex and Mr Olmos are swept up in a great adventure of secrets, genies and an ancient, bitter rivalry …

From the first page The Fire Maker is a fantastic, bursting-with-magic, totally engaging story! It is with great pleasure I am hosting today’s stop on the blog tour for Guy Jones’ second middle grade standalone novel, published by Chicken House. With themes of trickery, trust and ambition and an unforgettable friendship, The Fire Maker is sure to achieve the critical acclaim of his first book The Ice Garden. 

I was completely hooked on this new tale – it’s impossible not to love with the central characters in The Fire Maker. Eleven year old Alex, a magician in the making, and his strange, and somewhat unusual elderly friend Mr Olmos are a perfect combination. This story is a real page-turner with magic at it’s heart and themes of friendship and family making it totally relatable for young readers.  I’m delighted to welcome Guy Jones to the blog today with a guest post sharing his thoughts on the experience of writing his second novel:

The Sophomore Slump

Guy Jones Photo lowres“A confession. I am bad at answering questions about my books. Sometimes it’s the fault of the questioner. For example, there is no good answer to the poser ‘what kind of book is it?’ But mostly the problem lies with my own awkwardness, embarrassment and congenital inability to talk about my writing without feeling like a complete tool.

But, in the lead up to the publication of my new book, The Fire Maker, I’ve been asked the same thing over and over, by all kinds of people, and it’s got me thinking. The question is this… Was it more difficult to write the second one?

I think that’s a loaded sentence. I think it comes with an implicit knowledge of what Americans call the sophomore slump – that is, when someone’s second effort singularly fails to live up to the standards of the first. Its most famous manifestation is the ‘difficult second album’ so many bands encounter, but you can find it everywhere, from art to sport to scientific discovery. Look no further than the progression from Crocodile Dundee (Rotten Tomatoes critics rating – 87% fresh), to Crocodile Dundee 2 (11% fresh.) Ouch.

So, am I worried about meeting the same fate as Mick Dundee? Well, yes, obviously. Suddenly there are expectations to measure up to – my own, my publisher’s, and those of the readers kind enough to tell me they enjoyed The Ice Garden. But, to be honest, like many writers I am often brought up short by the thought of ‘oh my god, what if this is terrible?’ That’s not a second book thing, that’s just a thing. And, besides, there are just as many successful follow ups as there are flops. The Dawn of the Dead, The Empire Strikes Back, and Gremlins 2 (yes, really) all knock the originals into a cocked hat.

For me, the second go was easier in some ways. I could neatly sidestep, or at least stagger around, some of the traps I’d encountered in writing my first book. In fact, it was a lovely feeling to spot mistakes coming and give them a swerve (only to run into a whole bunch of exciting new ones of course). On top of that, having a timetable from my publisher was brilliant for focusing the mind. You can’t write yourself in circles when you’re on a deadline.

But the second book did bring one main difficulty, and that was in choosing an idea to start with. The first time around I could wait until the idea that had been brewing at the back of my mind was ready to go. This time around however there was time pressure, and I had to start pouring when it was still weak and watery. I had to plunge headlong into writing something and hope to god I didn’t get two-thirds of the way through only to discover it was a stinker.

So, was it more difficult to write the second one? Yes it was, in lots of ways. And no, it wasn’t in others. Every book is difficult on its own terms. But the excitement of the second book for me was in wanting to live up to expectations. And I very much hope that’s what I’ve done.”

Find out more at Chicken House  and follow Guy on Twitter @guyjones80 

With thanks to Chicken House for sending me this book to review and inviting me to be part of this blog tour. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the blog tour:

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Children’s Book Award BLOG TOUR! Armistice Runner by Tom Palmer

CBA-no-date-3-300x219I am hugely excited to be participating in the Children’s Book Award official blog tour in the books for older readers category again this year.  It’s the only national book award to be voted for entirely by children from start to finish and as such makes the award even more noteworthy.

Today I’m championing Armistice Runner by Tom Palmer, published by Barrington Stoke.  Tom has written some fantastic historical fiction titles and this is no exception.

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Armistice Runner by Tom Palmer

Lily has lots of worries. Sheʼs struggling to compete in her fell-running races and, worse, sheʼs losing her gran to Alzheimerʼs. But then she discovers her great-great-grandfatherʼs diaries from the First World War. Could his incredible story of bravery help her reconnect with her gran and even give her the inspiration she needs to push through and win?

Lily is really fed-up with always finishing her beloved fell-races as a runner-up.  At the end of every race, she just can’t seem to breakthrough the final barrier and push forward for the win. Endlessly frustrated, Lily’s worries are compounded by a visit to her grandparents and being faced with the reality that her wonderful grandmother is suffering with dementia.  The impact her grandmother’s illness is having on her family becomes all too real – even Lily’s irritating little brother can see how different everything is and looks to her for comfort.  A surprise discovery about her great-great-grandfather, Ernest, provides an unexpected escape and incredible connection with the past, offering Lily the inspiration she needs.  For he too was a fell-runner and faced huge pain and suffering during the course of World War One.  As his experiences come to life in the pages of his diaries, Lily starts to see that maybe she can get through her struggles and be like Ernest.

First and foremost this is a fantastic story – moving, engaging, thrilling, insightful – brilliant storytelling at its best. Bringing together two narratives, Armistice Runner provides an amazing insight into the fallen heroes of World War One alongside the experiences of Lily, whose family situation is causing great suffering.  With themes of conflict, family, rivalry and perseverance you can’t fail to be moved.  I knew nothing about fell-running prior to reading this story and found this aspect completely fascinating.  I have read many stories set in World War One, but Armistice Runner brings a new perspective on the horrors of trench warfare and the suffering endured by those on the Front and those at home. Tom Palmer captures this brilliantly and the empathy that Lily feels for Ernest, perfectly mirroring her own sadness as her grandmother slowly fades through dementia. It was particularly moving to see how this horrible illness affected the whole family and the moments where Lily sees her father’s response to his mother’s decline will have your heart aching. As Lily reaches the end of Ernest’s diaries, she finally discovers what happened to him and is given the best example of perseverance, kindness and friendship.

Armistice Runner offers opportunities for readers to truly relate to the themes of conflict through the parallels drawn with fell-running and the determination, bravery, and grit required to complete a race.  Endurance takes on new meaning as we see Ernest running through the trenches to save his fellow soldiers and escape the horrors of war. However, at no point is the story inaccessible to readers, on the contrary, it will help them gain a new understanding of World War One through the understanding it generates.  With a great female protagonist in Lily and an inspirational hero in Ernest, Armistice Runner is the best combination of story, hope and empathy. I would highly recommend it and its place on the Children’s Book Award shortlist is thoroughly deserved.

You can reading the first chapter of Armistice Runner here and find out more about Tom Palmer here. As a Barrington Stoke title, Armistice Runner offers a truly accessible read, with a super-readable layout and typeface so that even more readers can enjoy it.

CBA-no-date-3-300x219The Children’s Book Award is the only national award voted for solely by children from start to finish. Any child up to the age of 18 can visit to vote for their favourite books from the top 10. It is highly regarded by parents, teachers, librarians, publishers and children’s authors and illustrators as it truly represents the children’s choice. Thanks to the support of the publishers, over 1,000 new books are donated to be read and reviewed by Testing Groups across the country every year, with over 150,000 total votes being cast in the process. At the end of each testing year, nearly 12,000 books are donated to hospitals, women’s refuges, nurseries and disadvantaged schools by the Testing Groups. Previous winners of the award include, Michael Morpurgo and Michael Foreman, Quentin Blake, JK Rowling, Jacqueline Wilson and Rick Riordan.

Follow the award on Twitter @cbacoordinator and use #fcbgcba19 to stay up to date!  And don’t forget to check out the rest of the CBA Blog Tour and the other books in the Older Reader’s category:

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With thanks to  the Children’s Book Award for inviting me to participate in this wonderful award blog tour. Thank you to Barrington Stoke for sending me a copy of Armistice Runner to review.

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BLOG TOUR: She Wolf by Dan Smith

Published by Chicken House earlier this month, She Wolf by Dan Smith is an enthralling historical adventure set in the Dark Ages.  This is Dan’s sixth novel for children and I’m delighted to be participating in the blog tour today and sharing my review.  Historical reads were always really popular when I was in school libraries and I’m certain this will make a fantastic addition to any bookshelf, particularly with a such brilliant heroine at it’s heart!

 

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She Wolf by Dan Smith (cover illustration by Jill Calder)  

Northumbria 866. Washed ashore on a frozen English beach, Ylva’s survived. She will not cry. She’s meant to be strong. She’s a Viking.  But when her mother dies at the hand of a three-fingered man, and the wolves of the forest circle closer, Ylva will need more than the memory of her mother’s stories to stay alive. Can she shape her own legend? Will it end in revenge – or is there another way?

Step into the Dark Ages and experience the harsh landscape and even harsher reality of life as a Viking; but also discover courage, bravery and true heroism! Full of nail-biting action sequences, She Wolf will keep you enthralled as Ylva seeks revenge on the three-fingered man who murdered her mother. With her most trusted companion Geri by her side – with whom she shares a unique connection – Ylva’s search leads her on a quest of discovery – not just for a murderer but perhaps for her true self. As she navigates the icy terrain, Ylva must decide whether to continue alone or accept help from a kind-hearted stranger – even though she is not sure who she can trust.

The story brilliantly brings to life the sheer grit and determination of Ylva and her companions as they do their utmost to survive and stay alive, in amongst the treachery and violence of Viking traders.  Great character building and a well-paced plot are added to the historical detail, making She Wolf a compelling as well as interesting read. Even though not based on a true story, you certainly feel Ylva’s story echoes what Viking life could have been like.  For readers who love a real adventure, She Wolf will have you hooked from the first page and I expect create a whole new fan base for Dan Smith!

With thanks to Chicken House for sending me this book to review and inviting me to participate in the blog tour! Find out more at www.dansmithsbooks.com and www.chickenhousebooks.com.

Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the tour with guest posts by the author and more reviews!

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BLOG TOUR: The New Boy by Paula Rawsthorne

If you’re looking for a gripping read with a storyline that will keep you on tenterhooks, then look no further than The New Boy by Paula Rawsthorne, published last week by Scholastic.  Paula Rawsthorne is an award winning author of YA novels and passionate about enthusing teenagers to get reading. She is writer-in-residence in a secondary school for charity First Story.

With believable characters, endearing friendships and a very scary and utterly disturbing bad guy, The New Boy is a real page-turner. And today on my stop of the blog tour for this great new YA novel, you can have a sneak peek of the story!

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The New Boy by Paula Rawsthorne 

New boy jack is clever, handsome and popular. At first Zoe is immune to his charms, but she soon falls under his spell. As their romance grows, disturbing events arise – and Zoe doesn’t know who or what to believe. Until she discovers a secret so shocking it will leave her fighting for her life…

Described as a Black Mirror-esque, The New Boy is a psychological thriller exploring ina totally unique way the facades people create for themselves and how social media and our disregard for privacy can have a devastating impact on our lives. Alongside this narrative is a quite touching picture of a group of teens navigating their way through college, expressing themselves and finding their personalities.  With intriguing cover art rather brilliantly reflecting the intriguing plot, The New Boy will keep you hooked right until the totally shocking reveal!  I read this book in one sitting.  To give you a taster, here’s an exclusive extract……

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Find out more at www.firststory.org.uk/writers-schools/paula-rawsthorne/ and follow Paula on Twitter 

With thanks to Scholastic for sending me this book to review. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the blog tour:

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BLOG TOUR: The Dinosaur Department Store by Lily Murray and Richard Merritt

If you could imagine the most wondrous shop to visit, especially if you happen to have a passion for the prehistoric, it’s got to be The Dinosaur Department Store! This lovely picture book is written by Lily Murray, who has been writing and editing children’s books for fifteen years and illustrated by Richard Merritt, who has been an illustrator for over ten years. Published yesterday by Buster Books, youngsters are going to fall in love with this fabulously flamboyant story and it is with great pleasure I’m hosting this stop on the blog tour.

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The Dinosaur Department Store by Lily Murray and Richard Merritt

Meet Eliza Jane. She wants a pet for her birthday. Not a rabbit or a hamster or a puppy…..a prehistoric pet.  Join Eliza Jane and her parents at the Dinosaur Department Store. What could possibly go wrong?

Eliza Jane is a bit of a madam, driving her parents to distraction with her wilful ways! When she demands a dinosaur for her birthday, they oblige and take her on a tour of the Dinosaur Department Store, courtesy of the rather wonderful Mr Magisaurus. Every kind of dinosaur is on display from rip-roaring raptors to stomping sauropods (I particularly liked the ankylosaurs named Maud and Frank!). As with everything involving Eliza Jane, there’s an unexpected turn of events, causing more than a little upset at the Dinosaur Department Store…..

A fantastic book to read aloud, I can imagine The Dinosaur Department Store fast becoming a bedtime favourite! I thoroughly enjoyed the rhyming narrative, the characterisation of the very cheeky Eliza Jane and her exasperated parents, for whom you feel quite a bit of empathy.

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With so much to see in the vibrant illustrations – whether it be dinosaur spotting or looking at the incredible detail in the pictures – it’s no wonder the story comes leaping off the page.

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For the many children who are fascinated by dinosaurs this story is a must – and for those less knowledgeable about prehistoric creatures, there’s a helpful selfie-style dinosaur glossary at the back of the book so children can read along using the right dino-pronunciation.  The Dinosaur Department Store is a fun and adventurous tale which is sure to be a hit – make sure you visit soon!

Don’t forget to follow along with the rest of the blog tour:

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With thanks to Buster Books for sending me this book to review and inviting me to participate in the blog tour.

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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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BLOG TOUR: Our Castle by the Sea by Lucy Strange – Guest Post

 

ocbs blog tour bannerI’m so excited to be hosting this stop on the blog tour for the brilliant second novel by Lucy Strange, Our Castle by the Sea. In a thrilling adventure set in wartime Britain, Lucy brings to life unforgettable characters against the backdrop of World War 2 and the mysterious Daughters of Stone.  You can read my full review here.  I am delighted to welcome Lucy to the blog today with a fantastic guest post reflecting on how parents are made absent in children’s literature. Welcome to the blog Lucy!

The Significant Absence of Parents in Children’s Literature by Lucy Strange

our castle by the seaIn order for children in fiction to be brave and free and have endlessly exciting escapades, it is often necessary to get their parents out of the way. In my new book, Our Castle by the Sea, the absence of Petra’s parents is at the very heart of her story. Growing up in a lighthouse with her mother, father and big sister Mags, twelve-year-old Petra has never had to face anything more frightening than the storms that sweep across the Channel and Pa’s stories about sea-monsters. But it is 1939 and the Second World War has just begun. As the local community turns against Petra’s family, accusing Mutti of spying for the enemy, and Pa and Mags become caught up in dark secrets of their own, Petra is suddenly plunged into a new lonely world in which no one can be trusted.

From the tragic to the surreal, from locking them up to bumping them off, children’s writers have found a wealth of different ways to remove the parents from the larger part of their narratives so that the protagonists can pursue their adventures unencumbered by bedtimes, naughty steps and reminders to brush their teeth.

1. Orphaned The classic choice. Being orphaned not only removes the parental safety net for a young protagonist but it also creates sympathy for their plight from the very first page. Notable orphans in children’s literature include Harry Potter, Sophie in The BFG, the Baudelaire siblings in A Series of Unfortunate Events, Anne (of Green Gables), Bod in Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book (and the inspiration for his character, Mowgli), and Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden, to name but a few. A particularly strange and surreal favourite here has to be James (of Giant Peach fame), whose parents are killed by an escaped rhinoceros.

2. Holidays! Enid Blyton’s Famous Five were forever heading off for the entire summer armed only with their wits, a box of matches and a bulging picnic hamper. I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have caught quite so many thieves and kidnappers if they’d been cooped up with Mother and Father in a Center Parcs chalet. I loved these stories when I was young – probably largely because of the extraordinary feelings of freedom and adventure they evoked.

3. Boarding school This situation offers a protagonist a degree of structure and safety along with some independence, and plenty of opportunities for rule-breaking (pranks on teachers, midnight feasts and battling three-headed monsters in secret dungeons). Malory Towers was always a favourite of mine, along with Delderton Hall in Eva Ibbotson’s beautiful book The Dragonfly Pool, Deepdean in Robin Stevens’ Murder Most Unladylike series, and of course we can’t forget our beloved Hogwarts. I would argue that Louis Sachar’s brilliant book Holes also fits into this category – though Stanley is sent to a juvenile disciplinary facility rather than a boarding school, the setting works in a worryingly similar way . . .

4. Dreams From Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to The Wizard of Oz, dreams allow our young heroes and heroines to escape from reality (and their families) into a strange new world in which just about anything could happen. Magical portals such as wardrobes, Faraway Trees, Wishing Chairs and Phantom Tollbooths offer the same opportunities for adventures into other, more surreal and dangerous realms.

5. The Great Outdoors Oh, for the old-fashioned freedoms of a childhood spent sailing across lakes, getting lost in the woods and falling into quarries… The books of Arthur Ransome spring to mind, but also E Nesbit’s lovely classics involving bands of intrepid siblings who spend their days roaming around the countryside, such as The Railway Children or Five Children and It.

6. Evacuees With the Second World War as a backdrop, a child being sent away to live with complete strangers provides the starting point for many powerful and extraordinary stories, such as Goodnight Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian, Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden, and The Magic Bed Knob by Mary Norton (adapted into the musical film Bedknobs and Broomsticks). More recently, Emma Carroll’s wonderful Letters from the Lighthouse follows the story of young Second World War evacuees who set about untangling a rather wonderful mystery surrounding the lighthouse to which they are billeted (you can’t beat a lighthouse story, folks!).

7. Dotty Old Aunts Who Can be Hoodwinked Some children’s authors choose to pack off their young heroes to stay with helpfully neglectful relatives whose lack of supervision allows them to get up to all sorts of high jinks. Tom, of Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce, is staying with his aunt and uncle while quarantined with potential measles, and Minty in Helen Cresswell’s fabulous Moondial lives with her aunt while her mother is in hospital following a car accident. Perhaps aunts are actually the secret to time travel, as both these protagonists end up discovering magical portals into the past . . .

8. Invisible Parents In the Mary Poppins books by P L Travers, the parents, though present, are not really fulfilling the role of parents, so that there is room for a magical nanny to step into the breach. Roald Dahl’s Matilda also has two perfectly healthy parents, but they are so grotesquely unlikeable that we are delighted when at last they abandon our fabulous heroine, leaving her to be adopted by the heavenly Miss Honey. Sick and pre-occupied parents also fit within this category, such as those in Eloise Williams’ thrilling new ghost story Seaglass.

9. A Mission There are some things that a youngster must do alone, like fighting to the death in a gladiatorial reality show . . . The Hunger Games trilogy has been hugely successful, but lots of other children’s literature features a protagonist on an inspiring lone-quest, such as Tanya Landman’s immensely powerful Buffalo Soldier or Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s beautiful, lyrical myth, The Girl of Ink and Stars.

10. And finally… A World Without Parents! Padraig Kenny’s brilliant debut Tin, features a loveable cast of mechanicals who want nothing more than to be ‘proper’ children with real souls and families of their own. Charlie Higson’s The Enemy series features a post-apocalyptic world in which all adults have become infected with a horrible zombie-fying disease, so that the children are very much in charge of their own survival. For some young readers, an adult-free world may sound like paradise, but whether it ends up like Neverland or like Lord of the Flies depends, I imagine, on the nature of the children in question . . .

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Our Castle by the Sea by Lucy Strange out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House)

Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com and follow Lucy Strange on twitter @theLucyStrange. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the blog tour:

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