Tag Archives: Book review

BLOG TOUR: Skyborn by Sinead O’Hart

Today is my stop on the blog tour for a wonderful new middle-grade novel from author Sinead O’Hart, Skyborn published by Little Tiger. A prequel to the much-loved Eye of the North, (read my review of this title here) fans will be delighted to discover Thing’s origin story, in a marvellous and richly drawn adventure set in a Circus. Author Sinead will be sharing insight into the inspiration for Skyborn with a guest post all about her love of the circus!

Skyborn by Sinead O’Hart

The circus has seen better days, but for Bastjan it’s home. He will do anything he can to save it, even if it means participating in a death-defying new act. But when that fails to draw in the crowds, the ringmaster makes a deal with a mysterious man by the name of Dr Bauer. In exchange for his help, Bauer wants a box that belonged to Bastjan’s mother and came from her birthplace – the faraway island of Melita. Bastjan is desperate to keep his only memento of his mother out of Bauer’s hands. And as he uncovers more about the strange objects contained within, he realizes it’s not only the circus that’s in terrible danger…

There is something magical about the circus and Skyborn effortlessly brings this to life, with all it’s wonder and excitement – as well as the darker and more dangerous side. A fantastic cast of characters who you care about, with Bastjan and runaway Alice, who has a significant birth mark on her face, at the heart of the tale. It’s a sprawling adventure which takes you from the sawdust ringside seats up to the trapeze and on to the dizzy heights of air ships and the strange island of Melita. There’s action aplenty, as Bastjan tries to find the truth about his mother, and escape the clutches of his nasty step-father, Ringmaster Quinn. Helped by the eccentric stars of the circus especially his guardian, strong man Crake, Bastjan and Alice face their worst fears as they uncover the mysteries of the box. With multiple themes woven into the narrative, Skyborn is a great book to escape into and I’m sure readers will be lining up to join this circus adventure!

I’m delighted to welcome author Sinead O’Hart to the blog with a guest post sharing the inspiration for Skyborn. Welcome to the blog Sinead!

“I have always loved the circus. When I was a little girl, the circus would come every year to the town I lived in, and my parents always made sure my brother and I had front-row seats (or as close to front-row as could be managed). The ringmaster of the circus was a lady, a beautiful lady, with long dark hair that fell in a cascade all the way down her back, and it was thrilling to watch it flying around her head in a thick braid as she strode around the ring. I admired her red and gold jacket, her riding trousers, her shiny boots, and her gleaming top hat – and that was before a single act had performed! I looked forward to the circus every year, but eventually, as all children do, we grew too old to want to go to the circus with our parents any more, and so they stopped buying our front-row tickets, and we busied ourselves with other things instead.

But the magic of those performances stayed with me. I can still recall so clearly the smell of the big top, the tang of animal dung and straw, the odour of popcorn and toffee, the clamour of the crowd beneath the canvas, the heat (because beneath a big top full of people, it gets hot), and the excitement of waiting for the show to start. I drew on all of this when I wrote my newest book, Skyborn, which is partly set in a circus. The big top, and the performers’ wagons, and their lives as travelling performers, take up about half the book. Much of it is imagined, but I hope I paid a good tribute to the wonder I felt as a little girl whenever that red-and-white striped tent would rise in a field at the edge of my town, and the performers would drive up and down the street in their brightly coloured trucks, beeping their horns and waving, and calling us to ‘come and see the show!’

However, as much as I love circuses, some aspects of them are not as magical now as they once were. One of the themes in Skyborn is captivity, and the injustice of keeping animals in cramped conditions. At the beginning of the book we meet the elephant, Mammoth, who lives in a cage barely big enough to hold him, and Bastjan – our main character – reflects on how cruel this seems. Skyborn is about giving characters back their freedom (or most of them, at least – you’ll have to read the book to find out more); it’s about the wrongness of keeping wild things locked up, whether they’re animals or something else, something like the character of Dawara in my book. Of course, modern circuses don’t use wild animals in their acts any longer, and that is something to be welcomed. There’s still plenty of magic to be found beneath the big top without the need for animal acts – and there’s plenty of magic at the heart of circus stories, too.

So, without further ado, take your front-row seats! The Skyborn Boy is ready to fly, and the performance is about to begin…”

With thanks to Little Tiger for inviting me to participate in this blog tour. Check out the rest of the blog tour:

BLOG TOUR: Pinkie and Boo by Chae Strathie illustrated by Francis Martin

Today, I’m rounding off the wonderful blog tour for Pinkie and Boo by Chae Strathie illustrated by Francis Martin, published by Little Door Books. Introducing a feisty young girl and her toy monkey, this story is bound to delight readers young and old alike!

Pinkie loves being the smallest in her family, but the arrival of a baby means everything is about to change. It seems like the tiny new addition to the family will get all the attention . . . and Pinkie isn’t happy about that. To cheer her up Mum and Dad give her a lovely toy monkey called Boo. But it turns out there’s much more to him than meets the eye – at least in Pinkie’s imagination. Their outrageous efforts to regain some attention lead to a whole lot of mess and mayhem, but everything works out happily in the end.

What a delightful story! Full of humour and insight into the very real scenario of the arrival of a new sibling – one that many will relate to. Pinkie is understandably worried about the new baby and her vivid imagination (involving seagulls and wizards) only serves to make her more so!  When Boo the toy monkey arrives, he stuns Pinkie by coming to life – but she’s so pleased to have someone to share her problems with. Boo suggests all sorts of ways to make things better- making special drinks with all manner of ingredients from the fridge; drawing special pictures on the walls (oh dear..) and collecting all Dad’s best flowers from the garden!

The humorous narrative brilliantly brings to life this ever-so-tricky situation accompanied by lively, bold illustrations that capture the chaos and the determined Pinkie’s frustration. Empathy abounds as Mum and Dad discover the mess – but thankfully make things right for Pinkie and Boo. An entertaining read and a great story to reassure families expecting a new sibling, I hope this isn’t the last we’ll see of Pinkie and Boo!

With thanks to Little Door Books for sending me this book to review.

Don’t forget to check out the rest of the tour:

BLOG TOUR: Uncle Pete and the Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep by Dave C. Flanagan illustrated by Will Hughes

On the blog today, it’s time for an adventure with a story that sparks the imagination and will delight young readers, on Day Ten of the blog tour for Uncle Pete and the Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep by Dave C. Flanagan illustrated by Will Hughes. Indie-publisher, Little Door Books, have found a real gem with this, their first chapter book for early-readers and the first of what is sure to be a very popular series.

Uncle Pete and the Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep by Dave C. Flanagan illustrated by Will Hughes

Harry never went to sleep. Not EVER. In fact, Harry had been wide-awake since the day he was born. His Mum and Dad and the people in the town had tried everything to help him, but nothing seemed to work. Just when they had runout of ideas, Uncle Pete the explorer arrived on their doorstep and came up with a very special plan.

This charming, original tale is a perfectly pitched story for younger readers, as Uncle Pete arrives just in the nick of time to solve the problem for Harry and his mum and Dad. Eccentric and entertaining, Uncle Pete has some interesting habits – like eating lots of baked beans (and I mean LOTS) and growing potatoes and giant strawberries to make chips and jam. But he always makes sure he has lots of clean underpants on his adventures!

With lots of humour, you can’t help but smile as Uncle Pete sets about on the most marvellous journey in a rickety bi-plane, with the help of a tiny, talking mouse – rather aptly named TM. As Uncle Pete says “anything is possible”, and so it is as their quest takes them to a far-away land, through magical skies to find the starlit-filled cure for Harry. Young readers will love the imaginative narrative brought brilliantly to life with quirky illustrations and they’ll all be wanting to join Uncle Pete and TM on their next adventure! (of which there is a sneak-peek at the end of the book Uncle Pete and the Forest of Lost Things).

You can watch the author reading the story here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3NJkkIbZ8Mg and find out more at www.littledoorbooks.co.uk.

With thanks to Little Door Books for sending me this book to review and inviting me to participate in the blog tour. Visit the rest of the tour:

BLOG TOUR: Ten Little Dogs written and illustrated by Ruth Brown

I’m very pleased to welcome author and illustrator Ruth Brown to the blog today, in celebration of DAY THREE of the blog tour for her latest picture book published by Scallywag Press, Ten Little Dogs.

Ruth is sharing the ‘inside story’ of this delightful picture book featuring a count-down of man’s best friend. You can’t help but fall in love with the four-legged friends that appear on each page, and try and spot the difference as they slowly ‘disappear’ as you count-down. Gorgeous illustrations and a rhyming narrative bring the bouncing dogs to life. It’s a celebration of all the antics dogs can get up to from chasing butterflies to paddling in the sea and romping in the park! I’m pleased to share a guest post from Ruth sharing insight into the creative writing process behind the book.

Welcome to the blog Ruth!

“Ten Little Dogs is a counting book like millions of others, some use addition and some subtraction. I used the same plot device in my book “Ten Seeds” – start with 10 seeds – decrease to 1 flower which produces 10 seeds. Satisfyingly circular. I wasn’t originally going to use dogs in this latest book, I’d planned to use a variety of animals – birds, butterflies, caterpillars, mice, slugs, frogs etc and it started –

“10 plump pigeons pecking grapes from a vine.

Along came a fox – and then there were …….

9 blue butterflies resting on a gate.

Up jumped a cat – and then there were ……..”

and so on through my list of animals. But having written it, I realised that I had created a catalogue of unremitting predatory deaths. Now, I have no qualms about revealing the truth about dear old Mother Nature’s darker side to 5 year olds. At that age, I remember the fascination of finding small dead animals, the ritual of burial and the happy hours spent arranging daisies round the grave. (Normal childhood curiosity……….hopefully?) But when creating a picture book it is important to have an uplift at the end – not necessarily a happy ending, but resolution on a positive note, an element of hope.

In my story as it stood, yes, the pigeon could possibly escape the jaws of the fox but could a slug outrun a leaping frog? I don’t think so. In the make-believe world of picture books, no matter how bizarre and unrealistic, the stories have to adhere to their own mad logic and if, as I’d planned, my animals had all ended up miraculously alive in the meadow it would have been wrong. The ending would have to have been – The End …they are all dead. A bit harsh and not much fun.

So back to the drawing board. I decided to use just one species of animal. I often write about cats but using them in this instance would mean the opportunity for adventurous scenarios would have been limited – you don’t often see cats paddling in the sea – so I decided to use dogs. Puppies actually, but the title of “Ten Little Puppies” set the wrong tone. These were ten independent, adventurous little dogs. I know it’s unusual to see ten small dogs alone in a field minus owners and you’d probably called the RSPCA if you did, but remember this is picture book world. Finally I had the plot, the text and the characters and the story flowed, it came naturally to a satisfying circular conclusion, with all the dogs happily playing in the park……. and none dead. Then I had the pleasure of doing the pictures – always my favourite part of the process. Who said creating children’s books was easy?”

With thanks to Scallywag Press for sending me this picture book to review and inviting me to participate in the blog tour. Don’t miss the rest of the tour:

  • 26 April: My Shelves are Full @erinlynhamilton
  • 27 April: This Mummy Style @Thismummystyle
  • 28 April: The Book Activist  @bookactivist1
  • 29 April: Margaret’s Reading Shelf @booklib61 & Get Kids into Books @GetKidsin2Books
  • 30 April: Jane Sandell  @SeasideReader & Miss Cleveland is Reading @MissNCleveland

New reviews: Illustrated non-fiction roundup!

Today on the blog I’m sharing some fantastic non-fiction titles to educate and entertain. From rainforest to engineering to the magic of sleep and Ancient Egypt, there’s something for everyone!!

Zoom Rainforest Adventure by Susan Hayes and Susanna Rumiz is a gorgeous new non-fiction board book adventure series that will inspire budding young adventurers! Bright colours and lively illustration bring to life the fact-filled text and make this an ideal way to engage youngsters in early reading. They’ll find out about the animals and birds that inhabit the rainforest and discover creep-crawlies galore. With die-cuts and pop-ups throughout, Zoom will inspire even the youngest of explorers! Published by What on Earth Books, with titles including Ocean Adventure, Space Adventure also available and Building Site Adventure and Farm Adventure coming this November.

Sticking with the theme of forests, enter a world of wonder on a woodland walk with Look What I Found in the Woods by Moira Butterfield and Jesus Verona. Young readers are invited to join in the fun with this lovely picture book, and see what they can spot in the woods too. Full of detailed illustrations showing just how much there is to see, with an engaging, rhyming narrative. There’s also nature notes that add extra guidance and I’m sure Look What I Found in the Woods will encourage families to put their wellies on and get hunting in the woods! Published by Nosy Crow in collaboration with the National Trust.

Enter a world of plants and learn all about nature from master forager and gardener, Alys Fowler in Grow, Forage and Make illustrated by Heidi Griffiths. A detailed guide with 30 activities to inspire family time in the garden and teach children how to forage and what to do with their wonderful finds. They’ll learn how to make wildflower seed paper and create art from leaf pounding, or make a parsnip pea-shooter and see the Wood Wide Web! There is so much to discover in nature and this lovely book with equally lovely illustrations will children and their families discover it in spades (!). Published by Bloomsbury in collaboration with Kew Gardens for children aged 9+.

For something more historical in flavour, there’s The Mystery of the Golden Pyramid by Adela Norean and Aaron Cushley. A beautifully produced lift-the-flap adventure, readers join Sophie as she sets out to save a King and solve the mystery, with the help of a talking dog. With action, excitement and humour throughout, this fantastical adventure will engage young readers AND fill their minds with knowledge of Ancient Egypt! Published by Little Tiger.

The Magic of Sleep – A Fascinating Guide to the World of Slumber by Vicky Woodgate is exactly that – a totally fascinating insight in to sleep, uncovering all the things you’ve ever wondered about – and much more you haven’t! From the scientific to the sensational, from myths to the beds we sleep on, animals to plants and of course, humans, it covers everything. With helpful chapters headings, informative illustrations and a delightful cat who accompanies each section, you will fall into the world of sleep with ease with this book! My niece picked this book up and proceeded to read it cover to cover – she particularly liked the dream journal and practical tips for sleep at the back of the book. Published by Dorling Kindersley

Cool Engineering by Jenny Jacoby and Jem Venn is a new title in the ‘Cool’ series that has eleven other titles covering every subject from architecture to maths to mythology. Cool Engineering follows the same appealing, simple and attractive graphic style with just the right amount of interest to engage readers aged 8 and above. It’s full of incredible information about the world of engineering, including biographies of key figures in engineering history such as Leonardo Da Vinci, Isambard Kingdom Brunel and more recent, Elon Musk. From tools to transport, computers to biomedical inventions, there’s a whole world of fascinating facts to discover! Educational and engaging this is great book for reluctant readers and those who like to dip in and out of reading. Published by Pavilion.

Standing on Her Shoulders A Celebration of Women by Monica Clark-Robinson illustrated by Laura Freeman is a celebration of the strong women who influence us – from our mothers, sisters, aunts and grandmothers to the women who fought for equality and acceptance. Beautifully drawn, it reminds us of all the inspirational women who have gone before us – those we know and love personally, and those figures from history who deserve our recognition. It reminds us not to take our freedoms for granted and strive to protect them – and invites us to think about who might stand on our shoulders one day. Standing on Her Shoulders would make a lovely gift for the young girls in your life, one to be shared with all the family. Published by Scholastic.

With thanks to all the publishers for sending me these books to review.