New reviews: autumn reading roundup!

IMG-3981

I will admit that finding time to write book reviews is proving tricky of late. I definitely can read more than I have time to sit down at my desk and write! Like many who blog about books, my good intentions to catch-up with review-writing get interrupted by all manner of things – work, kids, family, domestic chores, even the cat.  So here goes with a catch-up of books I’ve enjoyed over the last few weeks (and which are now winging their way to my #bookbuddy school for lots of children to enjoy)!

ClownfishClownfish by Alan Durant is a quirky tale of a boy, Dak, whose father dies and unbelievably comes back to life – in the body of a clownfish.  Dak and his dad often visited the local aquarium together and when Dak goes there to escape his grief-stricken home, he is amazed to hear the voice of his dad coming from one of the fish tanks.  As Dak navigates the days following the fallout of his father’s death, especially his mother’s grief, he takes comfort in his secret knowing he can always talk to his Dad at the aquarium.  However the lines between what is real and Dak’s desire to believe his father is still alive become blurred and Dak ultimately will have to face the truth. Clownfish is a funny and moving portrayal of grief and acceptance.  Well-paced, it sensitively deals with the very painful theme of losing a parent, alongside a funny narrative of making new friends and a campaign to save the aquarium from closure. Published by Walker Books this month, Clownfish is a Alan Durant’s 100th book and well worth reading.

boy underwaterBoy Underwater by Adam Baron and illustrated by Benji Davies is a debut novel and also deals with themes of grief and bereavement.  Told from the viewpoint of Cymbeline Igloo (what a fabulous name!) it begins with an innocent desire to learn to swim. So begins a series of events that spark a breakdown in Cymbeline’s mother’s mental health, a desire to find out the truth about his father who died and the discovery of a painful secret.  Along the way, Cymbeline loses friends, finds new ones and has to face the fact that his family are not what he thought they were.  Boy Underwater is a moving story, told with real humour and insightful observations about family and friendship.  The wide cast of characters generate real empathy and reflect the realities of choice and consequence, demonstrating how grief can cause even the best intentions to go awry.  It’s also just a great story about growing up. A really impressive middle-grade debut published by HarperCollinsBoy Underwater made me laugh and cry at the same time.

firebirdFirebird by Elizabeth Wein is a young adult novella centred on the Soviet women pilots of the Second World War. An engaging read, with a fearless heroine Nastia who is the daughter of revolutionaries, Firebird brings new insight into what wartime Russia was like.  Nastia and her comrades must not only battle the prejudice against women wanting to fight in wartime but also the attacks of the invading German army.  She perseveres and with the help of her fierce female instructor, The Chief, she soon finds herself on the frontline.  The story cleverly weaves in Russia’s most famous family, the Romanovs and shows just how far people will go to protect their Motherland.  Firebird is published by Barrington Stoke, and is a very accessible read. With a fast-paced plot, I read this in one sitting discovering an area of World War Two history I knew nothing about.

Something else I knew nothing about is a fantastic author called Bianca Pitzorno, known as Italy’s answer to Roald Dahl!  Bianca has won the Andersen Award six times, been nominated twice for the Hans Christian Andersen Award and has won several more children’s literature awards in Italy.  So it was with great pleasure I read two of her titles, recently published by Catnip and both translated by Laura Watkinson.

magic ring

Lavinia and the Magic Ring – which is brilliantly illustrated by none other than Quentin Blake – is the tale of a young orphan Lavinia who, in reward for her kindness, is bestowed with a magical ring that can turn anything and everything into poo! It may not sound like the best power in the world, but Lavinia works out how to use it to find herself a home in a very posh hotel, beautiful food to eat and new clothes to wear.  Magic indeed! However, like many who find themselves in possession of great power, Lavinia starts to get a little bit too clever and when she inadvertently turns herself into poo, she quickly learns her lesson and remembers not to be selfish.  As you can imagine, with poo involved there are some hilarious moments that will have young readers chuckling and holding their noses! Accompanied by Quentin Blake’s magical illustrations,  Lavinia and the Magic Ring is a fun and feisty modern day fairytale with a positive message for all who read it.

littlest witchThe Littlest Witch is a charming tale of a mad-cap family and their discovery that the youngest daughter, Sybilla, is in fact a witch.  Which wouldn’t be a problem given the chaos of their family life, were it not for the witch-hunting Alfonso who needs to marry a witch in order to claim his huge inheritance.  A variety of fantastic characters feature including Sybilla’s six sisters, the nanny Diomira and her heroic nephew Zac, a cat called Mephisto and Shut-Up the parrot to name a few! Alfonso’s ambitions get the better of him and he finally kidnaps baby Sybilla, trapping her in basement.  But he forgets she is a witch and he also doesn’t count on her unconventional family! I won’t spoil the plot, but suffice it to say,  Alfonso gets his just desserts and there is a happy ending in store for all!  Lively illustrations by Mark Beech bring all the adventure to life. The Littlest Witch is everything a good story should be; full of character, funny and entertaining with a little bit of chaos thrown in!

With thanks to Walker Books, HarperCollins, Barrington Stoke and Catnip for sending me these books to review!

BLOG TOUR! The Wardrobe Monster by Bryony Thomson.

9781910646366 72dpi

book of the month

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….

Continue reading

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

Nimesh-the-Adventurer-cover

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.

Continue reading

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

The Eye of the North RGB

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.

Sinead O'Hart

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!

TheEyeoftheNorth-BlogTourBanner

banner new

 

 

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

The Eye of the North RGB

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.

The Eye of the North RGB

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!

TheEyeoftheNorth-BlogTourBanner

 

 

 

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.

doll maker

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.

doll maker

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!

-You Can't Make Me Go To Witch School!-309098-1

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!

-You Can't Make Me Go To Witch School!-309098-1

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

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