Book of the Month: Mo, Lottie and the Junkers by Jennifer Killick

book of the monthMo Lottie and the Junkers is the first in a new middle grade series written by Jennifer Killick, author of the Alex Sparrow series. Published by Firefly Press, this series introduces us to an unlikely detective duo who readers will love! I absolutely love Jennifer Killick’s books – fun, accessible, original, just the right amount of thoughtfulness and really great characters – this new title is no exception and that’s why it’s Book of the Month!

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Mo, Lottie and the Junkers by Jennifer Killick

Mo Appleby’s ordered life is turned upside down when he and his mum move in with his new stepdad and stepsisters, Lottie and Sadie. The home he left behind is just across the street, and there’s something not quite right about the new occupant. Other strange new people keep popping into his life, too: a bonkers lollipop man and a boy called Jax, who seems to understand Mo better than anyone else, especially Lottie. Who are the weird new people in their town? Do they have any involvement in the disappearance of Mo’s dad many years ago? And why does the ice cream taste so good? Lottie is determined to find out exactly what’s going on, even if it makes Mo mad, and even if it leads them both into serious danger…

Mo, Lottie and the Junkers is a totally engaging and highly amusing sci-fi-come-detective story featuring a brilliant duo in Mo and Lottie, who provide hilarious narration. With tons of original and eccentric ideas throughout the narrative you can’t help but be drawn in to the mystery.  Who on earth are the junkers? Why is the lollipop man behaving so strangely? Why can’t they stop thinking about the ice-cream van? There is definitely something odd going on – and odd is something Mo knows all about. He’s a wonderfully eccentric character who likes to collects lost property and try to return it to its owners, amongst other things. Mo enjoys peace and quiet and having his own space.  His new stepsisters on the other hand are loud, nosy and drive him mad which makes for some very amusing sibling scenarios.

Against this back drop of getting to grips with a new family home and a blended family set-up, Mo and Lottie join together and do their best to find the truth and solve the mystery. They face danger with bravery and determination and each helps the other deal with their various frailties and fears.  It’s great to see the warmth and friendship they develop as the story progresses, balanced perfectly with sibling irritation! With some brilliant plot twists, you couldn’t predict what’s coming and the very gruesome discoveries they make.  Be prepared for some mad moments, nasty villains and edge of your seat action.  A great read for middle grade, Mo, Lottie and the Junkers should be on all your bookshelves!

Find out more www.jenniferkillick.com and follow Jennifer on Twitter 

With thanks to Firefly Press for sending me a proof copy of this book to review. 

 

 

New review: Pog by Padraig Kenny

Pog is the highly anticipated new middle-grade novel from the author of Tin, Pádriag Kenny. Published by Chicken House, Pog was chosen as Independent Bookseller’s Book of the Month for April. Featuring a unique magical creature and a heartfelt adventure, Pog brings to life a fantastical world and vibrant characters and is sure to achieve the same critical acclaim of the author’s first novel.

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Pog by Pádriag Kenny

David and Penny’s strange new home is surrounded by forest. It’s the childhood home of their mother, who’s recently died. But other creatures live here … magical creatures, like tiny, hairy Pog. He’s one of the First Folk, protecting the boundary between the worlds. As the children explore, they discover monsters slipping through from the place on the other side of the cellar door. Meanwhile, David is drawn into the woods by something darker, which insists there’s a way he can bring his mother back …

Totally quirky from the first page, Pog brings to life a brave new hero and a heartfelt story of loss, love and family.  Moving in to their ancestral home surrounded by an old and dark forest, Penny and David are reeling from the death of their mother, with their father on the brink of breakdown.  The atmosphere of grief is palpable and little do they realise there are dark creatures just waiting to feed on their sadness.  Thankfully Pog, a Lumpkin and member of the First Folk and protector, lives in the attic. He’s a funny little creature whose task it is to protect The Necessary, the portal to another world through which dark creatures threaten to invade. With the ever-increasing danger lurking and David being tricked into thinking he can get his mother back, Pog has his work cut out in protecting the family, capturing the creatures that have already escaped through the portal and making sure The Necessary is forever closed.  This adventure’s finale will have readers holding their breath!

Pog’s antics are often very humorous and provide a good balance to the sadness of the tale, reminding us that there is always hope. The tension builds throughout and there are some truly moving moments between the family as they all try and come to terms with their grief, which are handled very sensitively and feel very real. The forest and its creepy inhabitants are also thoroughly believable – I don’t ever want to meet a bloodworm or a greebeldy! Pog’s bravery unites both Penny and David – his story is that of a true hero and will delight all readers.

Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com  and follow the author on Twitter

With thanks to Chicken House for sending me this book to review.

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New review: Wildspark by Vashti Hardy

After the success of the brilliant Brightstorm, it is no surprise that Vashti Hardy’s latest novel Wildspark published by Scholastic, has been much anticipated. And with good reason – it’s brilliant!  Featuring all the best elements of a great children’s sci-fi fantasy novel – awe inspiring imagination, incredible characters, unexpected plot twists and a truly believable world – middle grade readers will dive into Medlock and not want to come back! Vashti Hardy is a copywriter with an MA in Creative Writing and an alumna of and mentor at the Golden Egg Academy

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Wildspark by Vashti Hardy

Prue is a young farm girl whose older brother, Francis, had a natural talent for engineering. But after his untimely death, the family have been shattered by grief. Everything changes when a stranger arrives at the farm. A new, incredible technology has been discovered in the city of Medlock, where a secretive guild of inventors have found a way to bring spirits of the dead back into the world, capturing their energy and powering animal-like machines (the Personifates). Unaware that Francis has died, the Ghost Guild wants him to join them as an apprentice. Prue poses as “Frances” and goes to Medlock to learn the craft – but she’s on a mission of her own, to bring her brother back home. And to find Francis, she needs to find a way to help the ghost machines remember the people they used to be. But if she succeeds, the whole society could fall apart.

If you lost someone you loved and thought there might be a way to get them back, would you do anything you could to try? Even if it meant going against your parents’ wishes and deceiving all those around you? That is the idea at the heart of this fantastic story – and the challenges that trying to reverse the inevitability of death causes. Bursting at the seams with thrilling adventure and a truly thought-provoking narrative, Wildspark will keep you on the edge of your seat throughout.  As the story unfolds, we discover Prue is a feisty and determined heroine, applying her engineering knowledge – and a whole lot of new skills she learns as an apprentice – to find her brother.

Against a backdrop of uncertainty about the future of Personifates and growing debate about their rights as ‘humans’, Prue must use all her ingenuity and quite a bit of deception to enable her to succeed.  Thankfully she finds support from her new found friends and fellow apprentices – Agapantha and Edwin – who is the first ever Personifate apprentice. Together they navigate the challenges of being apprentices, boarding school and meeting their training mentors. But it is clear that Prue’s desire for discovery will come at a very high price and she and her friends face all manner of dangers in order to overcome the terror that is constantly lurking.

Featuring a truly imaginative world full of breath-taking scenery, wondrous inventions and the most marvellous array of characters you could hope to meet, Wildspark is one of the best books I’ve read this year. I hope there will be a sequel!

Find out more at www.vashtihardy.com and follow Vashti on Twitter.

With thanks to Scholastic for sending me a proof copy of this book to review.

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Book of the Month: The Midnight Hour by Benjamin Read and Laura Trinder

book of the monthPublished on 7th February from Chicken House, The Midnight Hour, is the much anticipated new book from Benjamin Read and Laura Trinder and our current Book of the Month!  Described as a ‘sparkling modern take on fantasy’ it’s sure to delight fans of fantasy fiction young and old alike.

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The Midnight Hour by Benjamin Read and Laura Trinder

Emily’s parents have vanished into the secret world of the Midnight Hour – a Victorian London frozen in time – home to magic and monsters. Emily must find them in the city of the Night Folk, armed only with a packed lunch, a stowaway hedgehog and her infamously big mouth. With bloodthirsty creatures on her tail, Emily has to discover the truth to rescue her parents. What family secret connects her to the Midnight Hour? And can she save both worlds before she runs out of sandwiches?

Eleven year old Emily has a rather tempestuous relationship with her mother – possibly understandable given her mother’s eccentric nature and maddening ways.  One particular day having been sent to bed after a row, Emily overhears a strange conversation between her parents referencing a mysterious letter that has arrived in the post and her mother’s estranged family. First her mother disappears and then her father, leaving Emily behind to try and save them both. So begins a fantastic adventure catapulting Emily into a world she didn’t even know existed, discovering unfathomable truths about not just her parents, but also herself and all those around her.

The Midnight Hour is children’s modern fantasy fiction at its best with a feisty heroine in Emily and a dazzling array of supporting characters. Emily is a bit of a troublemaker at times but at her heart, loves her family.  The city of the Night Folk is brilliantly described creating a strangely believable world with some of our most famous landmarks taking a central role in the narrative. Some seriously scary creatures and a particularly evil villainess make formidable foes for Emily to face, along with the help of her new found friends. The plot is well-balanced with equal amounts of humour, hair-raising scares, magical mayhem and a little bit of love.  Described as ‘Coraline’ meets ‘A Wrinkle in Time’, The Midnight Hour is a thoroughly enjoyable story for children aged 9+ and I’m already looking forward to reading the next adventure!

Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com

With thanks to Chicken House for sending me this book to read and review.

New reviews: November reads big book blog

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I’ve enjoyed some great books from the TBR pile over the last month.  Here are five of my recommended reads this month featuring magical adventures, suitably wintry landscapes, a haunting war time tale and a funny blend of story and science.

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The Clockwork Crow by Catherine Fisher

When Seren Rhys is given a newspaper parcel by a stranger late at night in a freezing Victorian train station, she has no idea what trouble it contains. She is heading for a new life in the remote country house of Plas-y-Fran. But when she gets there the happy Christmas she hoped for turns out to be an illusion.  Armed with a talking bird who might not be telling the truth,  a magical snow globe and her own indomitable courage, Sereb sets off on a perilous midnight journey into an enchanted world of snow and stars to bring happiness back to Pas-y-Fran.

A wonderful adventure story, The Clockwork Crow has mystery, magic and a marvellous heroine! Seren is no stranger to hardship having been raised in an orphanage, but just when she thinks her life will finally get easier, she is thrown headlong into a mystery adventure.  Seren’s new home is full of sadness and she is determined to find out why with the help – albeit somewhat reluctantly – of her new friend, a talking mechanical bird.  A page-turning narrative keeps you in suspense right till the end, with a few sinister and darkly magical moments that make you hold your breath.  I thoroughly enjoyed this story and the characters featured in it – especially Seren’s cantankerous companion! The Clockwork Crow is well-deserving of it’s recent short listing for the Blue Peter Book Award and a great new fantasy story to add to your bookshelf.

Find out more at www.fireflypress.co.uk. With thanks to Firefly Press for sending me this book to review.

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The Girl, the Cat and the Navigator by Matilda Woods

Curious, pin-bright Oona Britt dreams of setting sail with her ship’s captain father for a life of excitement on the wild waves.  She has read stories of a magical creature – the Nardoo – who swims through the stars at night, and stows away on a whaling boat the Plucky Leopard for an adventure full of myths and marvel among the ice-caps.  But her time on the storm-tossed sea is fraught with danger – there’s a mutinous crew, a sabotaging ship’s cat called Barnacles and a hungry creature of the deep awoken after a long sleep….

This is a captivating story about kindness and courage, family and fortune, all rolled into one marvellous adventure.  Oona makes a delightful heroine who you instantly warm too especially when you realise what a hard life she has had as the unwanted daughter of a family with seven children. She takes matters into her own hands as she stows away on her father’s ship and her pluck and courage are not disappointed as the adventure begins. Wonderful descriptions bring a thrilling and magical world instantly to life with beautiful illustrations by Anuska Allepuz. Reminiscent of a classic fairytale where the heroine never gives up hope and finally finds where she belongs, and where the villains get their comeuppance, The Girl, the Cat and the Navigator is a story to be treasured.

Find out more www.scholastic.co.ukWith thanks to Scholastic for sending me this book to review.

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White Feather by Catherine and David McPhail

The First World War is over, but for Tony there is little to celebrate. His brother never returned from no man’s land. To make it worse, Charlie died not as hero but was executed as a coward. Grief-stricken Tony refuses to believe that his brother was a traitor and he is pushed to the edge in his dark quest to uncover the horrifying truth.

White Feather is a haunting reminder of the horror faced by all those involved in World War One. Published in time for the Armistice centenary, this powerful middle-grade story portrays the journey of Tony as he desperately seeks the truth about his brother.  His mother refuses to accept Charlie’s death and her mental health deteriorates.  As Tony begins to uncover the truth, it is clear the impact of the war reaches even beyond his imagination and experience.  White Feather deals with many issues of the war – conflict, grief, desertion, shell shock – and challenges readers to think from a wider view about who was affected and how far reaching the consequences of war can be.  An accessible read, the simple narrative will help everyone who reads it understand why it is so important we remember the sacrifices made by so many, not just for the centenary but for always.

Find out more www.barringtonstoke.co.ukWith thanks to Barrington Stoke for sending me this book to review.

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Frostfire by Jamie Smith

Chosen for the honour of bonding with a frostsliver – a fragment of the sentient glacier that crests her icy home – Sabira embarks on the dangerous pilgrimage to the top of the mountain. But when a huge avalanche traps her on the glacier and destroys the pass, Sabira is determined to find another way home. In order to survive, she must face up to the merciless mountain – but there are dark and fiery secrets hiding in its depths …

Frostfire is a fabulous fantasy debut creating an utterly believable world with a brave new heroine at its heart. Bonding with a frostsliver is the highest honour that only a few of the Aderasti people are chosen for. The frostsilver becomes a symbiotic part of the chosen person and opens their eyes to the power of the frost fire.  We meet Sabira as she takes her first step toward her destiny but it’s not as straightforward as it seems.  Through flashbacks we discover she has already lost her brother to the mountain and that the world she knows is on the verge of collapse.  As the story unfolds, it is clear the dangers are not just on the mountain but inside it too and Sabira must prove her worth using all her strengths to overcome them.  A thrilling adventure, told with heart and creating a frightening and beautiful world of ice, snow and mysterious sentient beings, Frostfire will keep you hooked until the final page.

Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com. With thanks to Chicken House for sending me this book to review.

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Al’s Awesome Science Blast Off by Jane Clarke illustrated by James Brown

It’s the twins’ birthday and Al is researching new ways to blast off his time-machine capsule into space. Trouble is, his experiments with balloons, marshmallow catapults and bottle rockets are just a little bit messy! Soon, the birthday party has taken on a rather explosive twist and trouble is brewing with Al’s nosy neighbours.

This is the third book in the science-based series featuring Al and his twin sister Lottie and Einstein the dog. A brilliant blend of science and story, these books are a great way to introduce scientific concepts to young readers as well as keep them entertained with hilarious stories.  Blast Off features a whole host of characters, from the twins’ friends to Precious the neighbour’s unfortunate cat, who gets caught up in the fun, and her owners Mr and Mrs Good.  Laugh-out-loud moments are brought to life by James Brown’s fantastic illustrations as Al investigates how rockets actually work.  Throughout there are ideas to help readers explore and try out the experiments themselves. I love that Al is never put off by the mishaps and mayhem he creates- as he says “I’m a scientist and scientists NEVER give up!”.  A great fun read to add to this fantastic science adventure series.

You can read guest blogs by the author and illustrator of this series here.

Find out more at www.fivequills.co.uk. With thanks to Five Quills for sending me this book to review.

 

 

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.

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!

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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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