BLOG TOUR! The Wardrobe Monster by Bryony Thomson.

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I’m so pleased to be participating in the blog tour today for The Wardrobe Monster, especially as it’s my current Book of the Month!

The Wardrobe Monster is a delightful story written and illustrated by Bryony Thomson, published by Old Barn Books.  The tale features a young girl Dora and her three toy friends who’ve been unable to sleep at night due to the strange and scary sound coming from the wardrobe.  No matter how much they try to ignore it they simply can’t and eventually Dora plucks up the courage, with the help of her friends, to find out just exactly who or what is making all the noise….

I absolutely loved this story. It’s childlike appeal creates a gentle narrative accompanied by beautifully drawn, unique illustrations. With utterly endearing characters, the enduring theme of being scared of the dark and imagining monsters in the wardrobe is one we can all relate too. The reassurance as we discover that what’s in the wardrobe isn’t scary at all is palpable and little ones will be delighted with the gorgeous green and pink Wardrobe Monster who topples out!  The best stories are ones we can identify with and I’m sure many will be pleased to know they are not alone in their night time fears and feel much relieved to see things are never as scary as we imagine. The Wardrobe Monster is a warm-hearted story, great to read aloud and sure to become a firm bedtime favourite.

I’m delighted to host a guest post today for the blog tour by Bryony, sharing more about the inspiration for The Wardrobe Monster.  Bryony studied fine art and completed an MA in Children’s Book Illustration at Cambridge School of Art. Her work has already achieved critical acclaim in the form of a High Commended award in the MacMillan Prize and being shortlisted for the Bridgeman Studio Award.  Definitely one to watch!

Bryony Thomson

“The basic idea for The Wardrobe Monster was floating around in my head for a long time before I managed to get it down on paper – I think perhaps it needed to stew like a good cup of tea! Most of my stories are based on my own life or things I have seen, overheard or experienced and so it takes a little while to figure out how to turn them into a more universal story that can hopefully be enjoyed by everyone.

The inspiration for The Wardrobe Monster came quite directly from my own experiences. I went away to boarding school when I was eight years old which was a little scary and daunting. The school was in a very old stately home in Norfolk and we slept in these huge Georgian dormitories which had enormous looming wardrobes and somewhat temperamental plumbing. The result was that once you were tucked up in bed and the lights went out there were a lot of dark shadows lurking in the corners and strange clanking and banging noises throughout the night. I can remember lying there under the duvet much like Dora with my rather overactive imagination running wild, picturing all the different, unpleasant and scary things that could be making these noises!WM Spd1.jpg

I remember feeling silly for being frightened and so through the story of The Wardrobe Monster I wanted to show that it is OK to be scared – everyone is at one point or another, even those who put on a good facade. But also that if you can summon up the courage to be brave you will often discover that the thing you were afraid of isn’t nearly as bad as you thought. I’m not sure this is a lesson I’ve learnt yet, but it’s something I remind myself of fairly frequently! Ultimately in The Wardrobe Monster I was aiming to create the kind of story that would have made my eight year old self feel better.

Just as the story was inspired by my experiences, the characters are also based on real people. For me this is a really helpful approach as it means that I already know how they will react to certain situations and the kind of mannerisms they will use. Bear is very much my Mum, always taking the rational approach and trying to calm everyone down; Penguin is a bit like my Dad, especially in his sense of foreboding and slight tendency to melodrama, and Lion is definitely my husband getting a little bit over-excited and keen to dive in head first. The only character not based on anyone is Wardrobe Monster himself but I think this is because his character was always ‘other’, he was the scary unknown and so couldn’t be based on anything I was familiar with. In the end though it turns out he’s just a big cuddly monster who’s no less scared than anyone else!”

Thank you Bryony for sharing this insight with us – it’s great to hear where your ideas came from and how this story is rooted in your desire to reassure young readers and encourage them to be brave!

With thanks to Old Barn Books and Liz Scott for inviting me to participate in this blog tour and sending me a copy of The Wardrobe Monster to review.

Find out more at www.bryonythomson.com and www.oldbarnbooks.com

Check out the next stop on the blog tour at https://jillrbennett.wordpress.com

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Blog Tour: Nimesh the Adventurer by Ranjit Singh illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini

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I’m thrilled to be hosting today’s stop on the blog tour for fantastic picture book Nimesh the Adventurer, a debut for author Ranjit Singh who is a British children’s book author of East Indian heritage. Nimesh the Adventurer is a wonderful story about a little boy with a BIG imagination. Featuring striking illustrations by Mehrdokht Amini, the story begins when the school day has finished and it’s time for Nimesh to walk home from school.  But this is no ordinary walk home – for there are dragons and sharks and all manner of adventures to be had by little Nimesh, bringing the world around him to life in the most fantastical way!  It’s a wonderful celebration of the places our imagination can take us, and how magical the world can be through a child’s eyes.nimesh 1

It’s with great pleasure I am talking to Mehrdokht Amini today, an Iranian-born illustrator who has won the Children’s Africana Best Book Award and been nominated for a Kate Greenaway Medal. Her illustrations bring Nimesh and his adventures virtually leaping off the page!

Welcome to the blog! And congratulations on the publication of Nimesh the Adventurer. Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to illustrate this story. Many thanks for having me here! I spent the best moments of my childhood in a small garden in a small city surrounded by glorious mountains in a far away land. I used to imagine that behind the mountains there was a magical land where fairies and jinns lived. Years passed by and I never set foot in the magical land behind the mountains. I grew up and learned that adults have more serious matters to deal with. That is, until the day I decided to become a children’s book illustrator. Once again I found myself in the parallel world of dreams and magic and now I had an excuse to be there. So I guess the reason I became a book illustrator is the sheer enjoyment I get from living in the world of fantasy. I still like to think that maybe somewhere in the darkest place in the world a dragon is fast asleep in a cave or maybe fairies are flapping their wings around my head right now.

As for how I came to illustrate Nimesh the Adventurer, this is my second collaboration with Lantana. I had worked on another book with them, which is called Chicken in The Kitchen in 2013, which won Best Book at the Children’s Africana Book Awards and was nominated for the Kate Greenaway Medal. So when Alice Curry the founder of Lantana contacted me to do this book for them, I was overjoyed by the possibility of working with them again.

The illustrations are striking; a mix of media, wonderful colour and pattern. Can you tell us about the methods you used? Thank you! For this book I tried to explore new techniques and adopt my style to match the playful mood of the story. It was really exciting because for years I had worked solely with digital software and this project allowed me to discover new ways of expressing myself through hand painting and collage. I have to thank Lantana for letting me explore the boundaries that I hadn’t crossed before.

As for my method, let me explain it through one of the pictures of the book. After brooding over the overall composition in my mind for some time, I started with some quick sketching with a UNI PIN pen just to make sure the composition worked for the spread. This is usually the most important part of the work for me because it is the foundation of the work and the basic ideas and overall composition is hardly changed in the next stages.

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Then I started to work on each element of the picture separately and scanned the whole thing into digital files. image2.jpgSometimes I shoot some photos or use my own photo archive for some details. Looking at some related pictures and doing an intense research also helps me to come up with ideas. For this spread I looked at lots of images from the Indian and Persian miniatures.

 

After taking all the materials into Photoshop I assembled them and finalised the sketch and then sent it to my editor for approval. image5.jpgAfter approval I started all over again going through each element on separate layers in Photoshop.image6.jpgIn a detailed picture like this one sometimes I have to work on twenty to thirty layers, which is a complex process. But I also have to add here that after the approval of the sketch the rest of the process is really fun to do. image7.jpg

What an incredible process. Thank you for your sharing this with us! Nimesh the Adventurer is Ranjit Singh’s debut picture book. It must have been exciting to work on this with him and also quite a responsibility.  Do you have a particular process when you are illustrating another author’s work? I don’t have a particular process but I prefer not to meet the author before the sketching stage because I worry about being influenced by the way the writer imagines the story. Once a picture is formed in my mind, whether it is coming from the writer/editor or my own, it is difficult for me to shake it off so I would rather feel free to imagine the story as I like in this stage. Occasionally I have worked with authors who have tried to control the visual aspects of the work and I have found it a bit difficult. In the case of Nimesh I really felt at ease with Ranjit and although we discussed some imagery through the editors we trusted in each other’s ability from the start.

Do you have a favourite scene in the story? Mine is the princess scene. I had a vivid picture in my mind for this spread from the beginning and the fact that its orientation is different from the rest of the images makes it more interesting for me.

I love your dedication at the beginning to all the “little ones with big imaginations”! How important is it to celebrate and encourage this in children? I think that childhood is a stage for imagination to flourish because children still don’t know about the laws of nature and fantasising about their surroundings often satisfies their curiosity. In a child’s mind it is easy to make a ladder and go to the moon, get into a serious discussion with a toy, and wait for the arrival of Santa. Sadly we lose this ability gradually when we start to learn about the facts of life and the law of causality.  In my view this period of imagination and fantasy is vital for a child’s mental development because the richer and more colourful it is the more creative the child becomes later in life. Books play a pivotal role in enriching this period of life for children.

I couldn’t agree more and I wish you every success with Nimesh the Adventurer! Thank you for sharing your inspiration and insight with us today.

Find out more at www.lantanapublishing.com. With thanks to Lantana Publishing for inviting me to participate in this blog tour.  Hear more about this wonderful story on the rest of the blog tour:

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Blog tour: The Eye of the North – Sinead O’Hart

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Today is my stop on the blog tour for Sinéad O’Hart’s debut book The Eye of the North.  I’m delighted to welcome Sinéad for a bookchat about this fantastic fantasy middle grade novel and the inspiration behind her writing.  You can read my full review of The Eye of the North here.

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Sinéad lives in Ireland with her husband and daughter. She has had many jobs in her life including working as a butcher and a bookseller.  Sinéad has a degree in Medieval Studies, a PhD in Old and Middle English Language and Literature and can read Middle English with perfect fluency!

Welcome to the blog Sinéad and congratulations on the publication of your debut novel. I loved it! Thank you so much! I’m very glad to hear that. 

Tell us about the inspiration behind The Eye of the North. The inspiration behind The Eye of the North goes back a long way. Almost twenty years ago now, I was working in a job I didn’t like very much, and whenever my mind wandered I found myself thinking about a girl – wait for it – working in a job she didn’t like. The differences between that fictional girl (her name was Emma Marvell) and me were many, though; Emma worked in an office which catalogued and stored artefacts and samples from the mythical and legendary creatures of the world, which were sent in by a team of roving explorers. My job wasn’t a fraction so interesting. In Emma’s story, she receives a strange sample one day from an explorer who was last seen in Tromsø, Norway, which gives the impression that he has witnessed the killing of an extremely endangered, and officially mythical, creature – but Emma knows he’s lying. She sets off to get to the truth of what’s going on. I had such great plans for that story, but it never got written. However, the core of it – mythical creatures at the north of the world, valiant scientists struggling to protect them, a girl and a stowaway boy she meets on her journey – have stayed the same. When I came to write The Eye of the North, the story flowed out of my head almost fully formed.

You’ve created an amazing cast of both real and magical creatures. It must be hard not to get carried away when writing about mythical beasts! Do you find it easier to write about human or fantasy characters and how do you go about this? That is such a fascinating question – thank you for asking! It is a bit hard not to pile on the description when you’re talking about a particularly fearsome mythical creature, or to give your not-quite-human baddies all the evil powers you can think of, but I don’t know if I find it harder to write about them than I do about my human characters. I guess fantasy characters have ‘baggage’ – we expect the Yeti, for example, to do Yeti-ish things, if that makes sense, so it already has a character before an author starts writing – or you create them from scratch, so you can decide the parameters of what they can do. Of course, your mythical characters can be written against type, and can do unexpected things, but I think in general I find human characters more complicated, as there can be more layers to them. Certainly, that was true in this book, even though I loved creating some of the fantasy characters, particularly the Northwitch.

Thing is a particularly interesting chap – a bit of a rogue, but a heart of gold. Where did the idea for him come from? I think Thing emerged as a natural foil to Emmeline, and his character was built around that. Emmeline is logical and rational; Thing is impulsive and a bit scatty. Emmeline is guarded and can appear cold at first, because her feelings are so deeply held; Thing wears his heart on his sleeve and with him, what you see is what you get (not including, of course, the secret pain he hides from everyone, including himself). Emmeline is not, shall we say, a people person; Thing thrives on spectacle and makes connections easily, for the most part. I loved their interaction, and how they complemented one another. On the surface they seem very different, but in truth they are quite alike, as both are searching for some version of family, and they are both quite lonely, in their own way.

The plot is full of twists and turns, keeping the reader on the edge of their seat. How did you go about writing the many threads running through it – are you a ‘planner’ or does it evolve naturally? The Eye of the North, perhaps because it had percolated in my head for so many years, largely wrote itself. I didn’t plan it, and I would normally be a planner when it comes to writing – but in this case, the story just flowed. There were scenes, particularly near the end, where I didn’t know how a situation was going to resolve itself until I wrote it, and that surprised me. I knew where I wanted the story to end up, and I knew what fate I wanted for Emmeline and Thing, but as to how they were going to get there… well. I pretty much worked that out as I went, which I know isn’t at all helpful! Of course, the story was edited repeatedly and some plot strands were made stronger or more clear, some were excised completely, and a whole character (a baddie) was removed, so it wasn’t as effortless as I’m making it sound.

The Eye of the North is a fantasy novel. Do you plan to stick with this genre and are you working on anything at present? I love fantasy – mostly because I love mythical creatures, and have always done – so I will certainly try to tell more stories featuring our beloved fantastical beasts in the future. I also love stories in which a ‘normal’ world intersects with or is somehow interrupted by another reality, one in which unexplained things might happen, so that’s something I’d like to explore in future work. I love creating worlds like our own where someone has a power or talent which is outside the normal range of human ability – I have a future work-in-progress like this one on the back burner. As for what I’m working on: I’ve finished a second book, which isn’t a sequel to The Eye of the North, and it involves a girl and her pet tarantula and a boy and his pet mouse who are inexplicably linked across time and space, and who must work together to stop a terrible villain. It’s with my editors at the moment, and while I’m waiting for their feedback I’m making a start into a sequel to The Eye of the North – just in case anybody wants one.

You’ve been writing since you were young. What keeps you motivated to write and do you have any tips for aspiring writers out there? Motivation to write can be hard to come by – particularly since I became a parent! Finding time, finding ‘headspace’, and finding inspiration can all come under pressure when you’re busy, but it always comes back to this, for me: I can’t not write. If I don’t write for a while, I find the itch to start again always kicks in and I can’t help but think about characters and plots while I’m doing the washing-up or hosting conversations between characters in my head while pushing the pram, or whatever it might be. Sometimes I have time to write but I really don’t want to, and in those moments I sometimes push through and write anyway, but more often than not I give myself a break. Your brain needs rest, too. And writing isn’t always about putting words on a page: thinking and daydreaming and plotting and brainstorming and designing your characters are all important and can be part of the process – though it’s important to find the balance, and make sure you’re getting the words down, too, as often as you can.

As for tips for aspiring writers: read, read, read as much as you can, both because you’re hungry for stories and because you want to learn. Every story you consume teaches you something about creating them. When you write, don’t hold back; write whatever’s in your heart and head, and don’t worry about what people might think of it. Express yourself and be proud of the uniqueness of what you’re creating – because even if it feels like you’re not writing anything terribly ‘new’, your voice and your experience will make it new. And then, if you want to write for publication, my advice is to develop patience and resilience, because it takes a long time, and you will have many knock-backs on the way. I have been rejected by almost every major publisher in the UK and the US, and you’ve got to wear that like a badge of honour! Also, learning to take criticism and separating yourself from your work is important, and probably the hardest aspect of the job for me. But if it’s what you want, never give up. Never let anyone make you believe you can’t do it. People like me – very ordinary people – are doing it every day of the week. If we can, so can you.

Thank you so much for some wonderful words of inspiration and the exciting news there could one day be a sequel and good luck with The Eye of the North!

Thank you to Stripes Publishing for sending me a review copy of this book and for the pleasure of hosting this stop on the blog tour.   Check out the rest of the blog tour for more brilliant bookish chat!

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Book of the Month: The Eye of the North by Sinead O’Hart

book of the monthI thoroughly enjoyed this debut novel by Sinéad O’Hart which publishes on the 8th February from Stripes Publishing.  The story weaves elements of fantasy, magic and mythical creatures into an epic voyage.  You can find out more about the author and the inspiration behind The Eye of the North in the blog tour which will be stopping here on Sunday (see below for details)!

The Eye of the North by Sinéad O’Hart

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Emmeline Widget has never left Widget Manor – and that’s the way she likes it. But when her scientist parents mysteriously disappear, she finds herself being packed off on a ship to France, heading for a safe house in Paris. Onboard she is befriended by an urchin stowaway called Thing. But before she can reach her destination she is kidnapped by the sinister Dr Siegfried Bauer. Dr Bauer is bound for the ice fields of Greenland to summon a legendary monster from the deep. And he isn’t the only one determined to unleash the creature. The Northwitch has laid claim to the beast, too. Can Emmeline and Thing stop their fiendish plans and save the world? 

Emmeline Widget has always been convinced her scientist parents were trying to kill her.  But on discovering they’ve disappeared, everything is not as it once seemed.  An epic adventure begins during which Emmeline meets a cast of strange and mysterious characters, some of whom are friends and some very clearly foes.  Members of the Secret Order of the White flower make themselves known but Emmeline and Thing don’t know who they can trust. As she travels deeper into the frozen north, the sinister nature of Dr Bauer’s intentions are revealed, the Northwitch stakes her claim and Emmeline finds herself mortal peril.  But with the help of Thing and some very fantastical creatures, her courage and bravery will surely be rewarded.

The Eye of the North is an exciting fantasy adventure transporting the reader to a magical frozen landscape, full of unexpected delights and terrible threats. The perfect storytelling ingredients create a thrilling plot which has plenty of edge-of-your-seat action scenes. With a feisty heroine in Emmeline, an unusual but likeable sidekick in Thing and a wide cast of mysterious characters, the adventures keep the reader guessing.  The story culminates in a breathtaking final sequence, leaving the door open to a sequel that I would be delighted to read!  A really great middle grade debut novel.

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Find out more at https://sjohart.wordpress.com/ and www.littletiger.co.uk.

With thanks to Stripes Publishing for sending me this book to review.

Don’t miss the blog tour starting on the 5th February!

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New review: The Dollmaker of Krakow by R.M.Romero

I was instantly drawn to The Dollmaker of Krakow, a story that weaves together magic, folklore and history.  It was always going to be a challenging read given the time period and it was indeed very moving.  An impressive debut novel for ages 9+, it was also utterly unique, full of imagination and heart.  This, coupled with the amazing artwork throughout, created a story that stays with you and one that I would highly recommend.

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The Dollmaker of Krakow by R M Romero illustrated by Tomislav Tomic

Krakow, Poland, 1939. Magic brings a little doll named Karolina to life in a toyshop. She becomes friends with the gentle, broken-hearted Dollmaker who owns the shop.  When the darkness of the Nazi occupation sweeps over the city, Karolina and the Dollmaker must use their magic to save their Jewish friends from a terrible danger, no matter what the risks.

Karolina comes from The Land of the Dolls, brought to life in the Dollmaker’s shop by the kind wind, who helps her escape from her own war torn land.  For The Land of the Dolls has been invaded by rats, who do nothing more than destroy everything Karolina has ever known and loved –even her beautiful home where she sews wishes into the clothes of her customers. So Karolina is heart-broken and it is the Dollmaker’s kindness that repairs her heart. And in so doing Karolina helps the Dollmaker himself recover and rediscover his magic, having been plagued with sadness for many years. Together, Karolina and the Dollmaker find friendship not just with each other, but with their Jewish neighbours Rena and her father Jozef. It is only as the Nazi occupation of Krakow takes over their way of life that they all realise the danger they are in, especially when a Nazi commandant discovers their secret.

The Dollmaker of Krakow is a moving and terribly sad story of the holocaust. Beautifully written and full of folk lore, there is a timeless quality to it. I loved the interspersing of the fables from the Land of the Dolls and the parallels this drew with what happens in the ‘real’ world. It depicts the realities of war in a way even young readers will understand. The friendship between Karolina and the Dollmaker is beautiful and their courage and bravery in helping the Trzmiels is inspiring. The magical realism is original and brilliantly described, as is the Dollmaker’s reluctance to believe his own power – until he realises he can use it to save his friends.

I will be honest I wasn’t expecting the ending at first but as soon as I realised what was happening it seemed inevitable. As ever with stories about the holocaust, you just cannot fathom man’s inhumanity to man and the monstrous treatment of the Jews and many others by the Nazis. This story sheds light on what it was like to be not only ‘occupied’ but have your whole way of life obliterated – even down to the changing of Polish street names to be ‘German’. The Nazi commandant embodies much that is hateful and represents the cruelty of the regime in chilling fashion.

At the end of the book there is a chronology of the real events of World War 2 and a note from the author R.M.Romero, where she gives some insight into why she wrote the story.  She ends with ‘Please, don’t let it happen again’. In a world where intolerance, prejudice and injustice are still rife, The Dollmaker of Krakow reminds us that bravery and kindness, love and friendship can overcome adversity and that we always have a choice.

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Find out more www.rmromero.com and www.walker.co.uk

 I borrowed this book from the library. Why not check out your local library today and see what’s new?! #loveourlibraries #saveourlibraries

 

New Review: You Can’t Make Me Go To Witch School! by Em Lynas illustrated by Jamie Littler

Em Lynas writes stories and poems for children aged 5 to 12 years. You Can’t Make Me Go To Witch School! is her fantastic debut novel, published by Nosy Crow and illustrated by Jamie Littler. A perfect combination of lively narrative and marvellous illustrations that bounce off the page, this was a thoroughly enjoyable read!

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You Can’t Make Me Go To Witch School! By Em Lynas illustrated by Jamie Littler

Daisy Wart is NOT a witch! She is an ACTRESS!  And actresses do NOT go to witch school! So when she finds herself at Toadspit Towers, sleeping in a swinging cauldron (surprisingly comfortable) and eating gloop (unsurprisingly disgusting), she vows to escape at all costs.  But how can she get past the TOADSPIT TERRORS that lurk in the corridors? And what if she REALLY IS a witch? Maybe even the WITCHIEST WITCH of them all?

Daisy Wart is furious when her Granny leaves her at Toadspit Towers boarding school for witches. Adamant that she is not a witch and determined to escape, so she can prove her thespian abilities in her school play, Daisy hatches an escape plan. And another, and another….all of which are doomed to fail! Stuck in a dormitory with the irritating Dominique, Best and Brightest Witch in the school, the longer Daisy spends at Toadspit, the more the mystery surrounding her ancestry unfolds.  Not only this, the school has a few mysteries of its own and it seems Daisy’s escape is tied up with the fate of Toadspit. With two new friends to help her, Daisy gathers all her courage and ingenuity to once and for all prove she is not a witch….!

You Can’t Make Me Go To Witch School! is a fantastic story, full of humour and original, fun magical details that will delight readers.  I particularly liked the school reward system – magical ticks giving students the ability to ‘buy’ treats (I’d love to be able to do this at my school!) A lively cast of characters include Mrs Toadspit the resident ghost and headmistress; Mrs Thorn, a teacher with looks that cold ‘shrivel’; Jess and Shalini, Daisy’s friends; and of course a variety of magical creatures from hooting owls, carnivorous plants to magical wooden cats! I particularly enjoyed Ms Lobelia the singing/gardening expert (wonderfully drawn by Jamie Littler).

Daisy who is a loveable but somewhat feisty girl has to quickly learn how to fit in at her new school and make friends, something many readers will identify with – although I don’t imagine many readers sleep in swinging cauldrons! Jamie Littler’s fantastic Illustrations bring to life the humour and magic of the story and as the plot thickens, there are some brilliantly described edge of your seat moments. There is a slightly unexpectedly gruesome moment as the story climaxes to watch out for with younger readers, but I’m sure You Can’t Make Me Go To Witch School! will be a hit with all who read it and they’ll be clamouring for the next in the series!

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Find out more at www.emlynas.weebly.com.

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

 

New Review: Show Stopper by Hayley Barker

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Hayley Barker’s debut YA novel Show Stopper will be published by Scholastic on 1st June 2017.  An English teacher and huge YA fiction fan, Hayley says being published is the most exciting thing that has ever happened to her! She was inspired to write Show Stopper by her fears about the growing wave of crime and animosity against minority groups in England.

Show Stopper by Hayley Barker

A dazzling, high-octane read filled with death-defying acrobatics, circus crowds with an appetite for disaster, and two forbidden teenage lovers trying to escape the shackles of their very different lives. Set in a near-future England where the poorest people in the land must watch their children be taken by a travelling circus – to perform at the mercy of hungry lions, sabotaged high wires and a demonic ringmaster. The ruling class visit the circus as an escape from their structured, high-achieving lives – pure entertainment with a bloodthirsty edge. Ben, the teenage son of a draconian government minister, visits the circus for the first time and falls instantly in love with Hoshiko, a young performer. They come from harshly different worlds – but must join together to escape the circus and put an end to its brutal sport.

Living in a dystopian future set in the UK, Ben is a Pure and the son of one the most powerful families in the ruling class; his mother being the Dreg Control Minister. The Dregs are outcasts – immigrants who over the last 100 years have now become so reviled they are like slaves.  Controlled by the Pures, it is the Dregs and their children who provide a never ending, and often needed, supply of performers for the deadly circus.  Ben is not like his mother or the rest of his family and hates having to ‘keep up appearances’. Through his relationship with the family housekeeper who herself is a Dreg, Ben begins to see the pain and anguish they suffer.  When he finally gets to see the deadly circus with his own eyes, he realises the full extent of the horror before him and cannot stop himself from trying to save Hoshiko and escape from a life of almost totalitarian control.

A story with much to admire, Show Stopper is a roller-coaster ride told from the points of view of the two central characters, who both have to draw on all their bravery and strength to succeed.  Ben’s mother is horrible and you do feel great sympathy for him. It is no surprise he falls for the beautiful but fierce Hoshiko, who herself lacks security of her real family, with only her fellow performers to rely on.  There are parallels between Ben and Hoshiko’s very different lives; they both crave the love of their families, suffer at the hands of bullies and have to ‘perform’ for various audiences.  Although the penalty for Hoshiko is far more severe if she fails…. Show Stopper makes knife-throwing in an ordinary circus look like a walk in the park and with the positively evil Ringmaster in charge, there are plenty edge-of-your-seat moments!

The circus is a great setting for a story and the narrative brilliantly captures the atmosphere and excitement – as well the danger and fear. The cast of circus characters are well imagined and you feel great empathy for all of them having to perform in such frightening circumstances.  The scenario of the Pures letting their hair down, transforming into a baying mob and watching the ‘dregs’ of society perform to the death is sadly quite believable, even if somewhat extreme. With some gruesome scenes bringing a definite flavour of horror to this novel, it’s not for the faint-hearted. However, the author succeeds in highlighting the potential ramifications if the increasing hate and prejudice that is embedded in some parts of our society is not addressed. I’d recommend Show Stopper for YA readers who enjoy a thrilling, dark, romance. Watch out for evil Ringmaster!

Follow Hayley on Twitter @HayleyABarkerFind out more at www.scholastic.co.uk. Read my interview with Hayley here. With thanks to Scholastic for sending me this book to review.