BLOG TOUR: Invisible in a Bright Light by Sally Gardner

I recall a time when Sally Gardner’s I, Coriander was permanently on loan from the school library, with a reservation list as long as your arm.  I would not be surprised if the same is to be true of her fantastic new novel for middle grade readers Invisible in a Bright Light published by Zephyr Books and I am delighted to be participating in the blog tour today!

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It is 1870: opening night at the Royal Opera House in a freezing city by the sea, where a huge, crystal chandelier in the shape of a galleon sparkles magically with the light of 750 candles. Celeste, a theatre rat, wakes up in a costume basket from what she hopes is a bad dream, to find that everyone at the theatre where she works thinks she is someone else. When the chandelier falls, she is haunted by a strange girl who claims to know Celeste’s past and why she must risk playing a game called the Reckoning to try to save the people she loves.

Celeste knows something is not quite right and can’t seem to remember exactly who she is and where she has come from. Distant voices and strange memories of a man in an emerald green suit haunt her as the truth is slowly reveavled. Her current reality of being a theatre rat just doesn’t ring true and even those she loves are not themselves. What is the mystery behind the glorious chandelier that adorns the ceiling of the opera house? And why won’t anyone accept that Celeste’s name is not Maria?

A stunning narrative reveals a compelling and dark fairy-tale of love, family and magic set against the backdrop of the opera. Full of startling discoveries, bold characters and family bonds that even time itself cannot break, this story will draw you in one page at a time. The theatrical world of opera is brought wonderfully to life and Celeste’s determination to win what seems the most impossible game is palapable. Beautifully described, I read this in one sitting finding myself totally absorbed and thoroughly enjoying each twist and turn right to the satisfying ending.  This novel really stands out in the crowd; Invisible in a Bright Light will captivate it’s audience from beginning to end.

The story behind the novel
As a young costume designer working at the Royal Opera House in Copenhagen, Sally Gardener glimpsed a chandelier which hung majestically from the dome of the opera house into the auditorium. One wintry day, she visited the dome that looked out across the rooftops of Copenhagen and found an old lady living there, whose job it was to polish the chandelier until it gleamed. Sally felt as if she had stepped into a fairy tale and the experience left an indelible mark on her imagination. Inspired by this and by her love of ghost ships, theatre and fairy tale, Invisible in a Bright Light is a story she has
been waiting to write for a long time. It reunites Sally with her favourite middle grade audience and recreates the splendour and dark magic of her award-winning debut novel I, Coriander.

Find out more at www.sallygardner.co.uk and @TheSallyGardner

With thanks to Zephyr Books for sending me this book to review and inviting me to participate in the blog tour. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the tour:

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New review: How High the Moon by Karyn Parsons

I was instantly intrigued by this story given it was written by Karyn Parsons, best known for her role as Will Smith’s ditsy cousin Hilary Banks in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Karyn has since gone on to found and produce Sweet Blackberry an award-winning series of children’s animated films to share stories about unsung black heroes in history. How High the Moon is her debut novel for children aged 9 and up.  A sweeping tale of growing up in segregated America, it tells the story of Ella and her family and friends and will stay with you long after the final page.

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How  High the Moon by Karyn Parsons

“Boston was nothing like South Carolina. Up there, colored folks could go anywhere they wanted. Folks didn’t wait for church to dress in their fancy clothes. Fancy was just life. Mama was a city girl . . . and now I was going to be one too.”

It’s 1944, and in a small, Southern, segregated town, eleven-year-old Ella spends her summers running wild with her cousins and friends. But life isn’t always so sunny. The deep racial tension that simmers beneath their town’s peaceful facade never quite goes away, and Ella misses her mama – a beautiful jazz singer, who lives in Boston. So when an invitation arrives to come to Boston for a visit Ella is ecstatic – and the trip proves life-changing in more ways than one. For the first time, Ella sees what life outside of segregation is like, and begins to dream of a very different future. But her happiness is shattered when she returns home to the news that her classmate has been arrested for the murder of two white girls – and nothing will ever be the same again.

A moving and beautifully written historical tale drawing you into a world of racial tension, family bonds and friendship. It is told through the voices of the various central characters –11 year old Ella, desperate to find her place in the world; Henry, Ella’s steadfast best friend and Mryna, an orphan girl taken in by Ella’s grandparents who experiences first love with classmate George.  Ella has a love-hate relationship with Myrna and is often in conflict with her. When Ella goes to Boston to stay with her mother she hopes to find the truth about her father – who judging by Ella’s skin-colour and the prejudice she is often on the receiving end of, was white.  However, Ella finds her mother unwilling to share any more than this and unwilling to give up her lifestyle of late-night performing to be a stay-at-home mother. Ella finds a surprising ally in her mother’s roommate, Helen, but the time comes when she must return home. The story takes a heart-rending turn when George, Myrna’s boyfriend is accused of murder, turning their world upside down and causing increased racial tension with the threat of lynch-mobs never far away.

There are so many facets to this brilliant story and it weaves a believable but haunting narrative. Ella is a brave heroine, with a voice that must be heard. The character building is excellent and you can’t help but feel Ella, her friends and family really existed, pulling empathy from the reader from the first page. Sadly, the story of George is based on truth – George Stinney Jr was 14 years old when he was excused of murdering two white girls and executed for murder. Seventy years later he was exonerated and his trial and sentence declared a sham.

I never fail to be horrified by man’s inhumanity to man and shedding light on the racial tensions in 1940s Deep South, and what it was really like to live during this time is important. Particularly in the current climate where racial inequality still exists; this book will build empathy and understanding and would be most suitable for older primary children and also good for those students studying this period of history.  How High the Moon is brilliant and brave storytelling and is deservedly described as future classic.

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Find out more www.penguin.co.uk. With thanks to Puffin for sending me this book to review.

BLOG TOUR: Lily and the Rockets by Rebecca Stevens

 

I’m hosting the final stop on the blog tour for Lily and the Rockets by Rebecca Stevens. I was delighted to be invited to do so, having been a huge fan of Rebecca Stevens previous novel, Valantine Joe. This latest middle grade novel Lily and the Rockets, published by Chicken House, is a fantastic story that celebrates girls and women in football and serves as a poignant reminder of how the first World War impacted the lives of so many. Not just those serving in conflict but those left at home, who had to totally transform their way of living whilst the men were away.

Lily and the Rockets Jacket lowresIt’s 1918. Lily spends her days working in a munitions factory, her nights picking metal out of her hair, and her lunchtimes kicking a ball with her workmates. Together they form a football team, the Rockets, and a league soon follows. But when the war ends, the girls lose both their jobs and their football. Not Lily. If her only chance of being a goalie is to play with the men, then that’s what she’ll do.

Lily is a wonderful heroine, determined to live her dream of playing football. Such is the narrative and quality of the writing, the characters leap off the page and you feel that their story could be true. It was in fact is inspired by the Woolwich Arsenal Rocket Ladies FC, who were one of several female-only teams that thrived while the Great War raged on. Despite their success, once the war was over, a ban was put in place by the FA that was to last fifty years.  Thankfully women’s football is now in a much better place and perhaps without girls and women like Lily and her friends, who were brave enough to stand up to convention, we wouldn’t be about to celebrate the FIFA Women’s World Cup which begins next month (7 June- 7 July 2019).

I’m delighted to welcome Rebecca Stevens to the blog share more about her inspiration for the book!

‘Complaints having been made as to football being played by women, the Council feel impelled to express their strong opinion that the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged’  Football Association spokesman, 1921

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“Lots of people know about the munitionettes of WW1. They’ve seen the propaganda posters of the time, urging women and girls to ‘do their bit’, to fill the jobs in the factories left empty by the men and make the bombs and bullets needed for the war. What fewer people know is that the women and girls started to play football;  they formed their own teams and leagues and then, when in 1915 the Football Association suspended the men’s professional game for the duration  of the war, they started to play on their grounds, attracting crowds as big – and sometimes bigger – than the men’s game.

 

The most successful team of all, the Dick, Kerr Ladies from Preston (the comma isn’t a typo – it was originally a team of workers from a factory owned by a Mr Dick and a Mr Kerr), drew huge crowds. The biggest was a crowd of 53,000 inside the ground with over 14,000 locked out – a record for a women’s match that wasn’t beaten until the 2012 Olympics when England played Brazil. Ladies’ football was a success.

So what happened?  

Well, the war ended. The men and boys needed their jobs back. The women and girls got kicked out of the factories. And the gentlemen of the Football Association decided they didn’t like the idea of females playing football after all and announced that they would expel any club who allowed ladies’ teams to play on their grounds.

And that was that.

But what, I wondered, if it wasn’t. What if there was one girl who refused to give up, who found a way to carry on playing?

Ever since I was little, I’ve loved stories about disguise, people pretending to be someone else and actually becoming more like themselves in the process. Mulan, Sweet Polly Oliver, so many of Shakespeare’s heroines.  Even Cinderella is able to become somebody else just by putting on a different outfit (perhaps that’s why we all love makeovers!).   So, in Lily and the Rockets, I decided to do the same and write a girls’ own story about football, friendship and feminism in the hope that it would encourage readers to follow their own star, whatever that star might be.”

Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com and follow Rebecca Stevens on twitter @rstevenswriter. With thanks to Chicken House for inviting me to participate in this blog tour. Check out the rest of the tour here:

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BLOG TOUR: She Wolf by Dan Smith

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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New review: Little Bird Flies by Karen McCombie

Karen McCombie’s fantastic books were always a popular choice when I was in the school library, with many pupils eagerly awaiting the latest title.  I expect the same will happen with Little Bird Flies, the first in a new middle grade series published by Nosy Crow, which will no doubt delight readers – especially if they happen to be fans of stories with a determined heroine and beautiful, historical settings!

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Little Bird Flies by Karen McCombie

Bridie lives on the remote Scottish island of Tornish, the youngest of three sisters. Although she loves her island, with its wild seas and big skies, she guiltily nurses a secret dream of flight – to America and the freedom of the New World.

But her family are struggling under the spiteful oppression of the new Laird, and it seems that even some of the Laird’s own household are desperate to leave. When the Laird’s full cruelty becomes apparent, there’s no more time for daydreams as Bridie needs to help the people she loves escape to safety.

Instantly compelling, with a bold and brave heroine, Little Bird Flies is a gripping and beautifully told historical drama. Bridie, or Little Bird as she is known, is a determined soul who dreams of escaping the life that is mapped out before her. Even though she is surrounded by a loving family and good friends she cannot help but feel there is adventure to be had away from her island home.  Resigned to the fact her father will always keep the promise he made to her dying mother, that her and her sisters will stay safely on the island, Bridie lives a simple life, never complaining. This is an admirable fact particularly in the light of her disability, having limbs that were damaged at birth. But little does Bridie know that the death of their kind and generous Laird will bring about more changes than even she could have dreamt of. With a new Laird in place and new people on the island bringing a taste of the outside world with them, it seems that Bridie might have her thirst for adventure and new experiences quenched.  Sadly, this is not to be; Bridie and her family draw together to escape what is a tyrannical regime, leaving everything they know behind them.

This is such a lovely story, with so much to admire. A wonderful narrative and utterly absorbing plot weave together a rich tapestry of life with a wonderful young heroine at it’s heart. Bridie is a passionate young girl, determined to deal with everything life throws at her – there is much to learn from her spirit! The love she and her family have for each other, despite their differences and in spite of the hardships they face, is so real.  Evoking the beautiful simplicity of a crofter’s existence alongside the harsh reality of Victorian times, Little Bird Flies is the start of what will be a very special series.

Find out more at www.karenmccombie.com and www.nosycrow.com

With thanks to Nosy Crow for sending me this book to read and review.

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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.

 

 

New review: Gaslight by Eloise Williams

Gaslight is the second novel by Eloise Williams, published by Firefly Press.  Eloise grew up in Wales and studied for a masters in Creative Writing at Swansea. She also worked in the theatre and studied drama. Gaslight is set in Victorian Cardiff and gives a wonderful insight into life behind the scenes in a Victorian theatre, as well as a cracking adventure!

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Gaslight by Eloise Williams

I was found at the docks in Cardiff, lying like a gutted fish at the water’s edge. All Nansi knows is that her mother disappeared on the day she was fished out of the docks. She can’t remember anything else. Now, with no family to turn to, she works for Sid at the Empire Theatre, sometimes legally, sometimes thieving, trying to earn enough money to hire a detective to search for her mother.

Everything changes when Constance and Violet join the theatre. Nansi is forced to be part of Violet’s crooked psychic act.  But it’s Constance who is keeping the real secrets. Nansi is about to learn that her world is even more dangerous that she realised. Can she save her mother? Can she save herself?

Nansi’s life at the Empire Theatre is hard and fraught with danger.  With the vile Sid being her ‘father’ figure – something he constantly reminds her of – she has no choice but trust him and all his schemes, just to keep a roof over her head and the hope of finding her mother alive.  Nansi’s only comfort is her friendship with an orphan called Bee, who is more like a younger sister to her. Nansi is fiercely protective of Bee, determined to try and make her life easier.  With no memory to help her, Nansi is without clues to her mother’s disappearance and it’s only when the new arrival Constance takes up residence in Nansi’s room, that it appears that her trust in Sid is truly misplaced. The mystery surrounding her mother’s disappearance starts to unravel.   What follows is a dangerous and thrilling adventure to find the truth- and avoid disappearing herself on the way!

A wonderful Victorian romp with echoes of Dickens, Gaslight is a thoroughly enjoyable read. The narrative unfolds at a good pace and the setting is vividly described, creating a deliciously dark picture of a life in Victorian Cardiff.  From the grimy streets to the spotlit stage, the atmosphere positively draws you in. I loved Nansi; she is bold and brave and doesn’t allow her fears to get the better of her.  She’s exactly the sort of heroine I loved reading about when I was a girl! She holds on to the hope of finding her mother and this is carried throughout the novel, even when she’s at her lowest ebb. Her relationship with Bee is lovely and I love that the author weaves the joy stories can bring into their lives.  Scary and gritty at times the cast of characters includes thieves, mudlarks and even an evil asylum proprietor.  As the plot thickens, the brilliant storytelling takes you on a thrilling journey, with twists galore.  The added interest of life in a Victorian theatre and the intrigue behind the scenes ensures Gaslight will entertain all readers!

Postscript…I think my favourite character must be the maid at the end…called Dilly!! Thank you Eloise; very happy to have inspired the name (as I discovered through the wonder of Twitter!)

Watch the book trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SEfQGT_-EYw

Find out more at www.eloisewilliams.com and www.fireflypress.co.uk. Follow Eloise on Twitter @Eloisejwilliams .

With thanks to Firefly Press for sending me this book to review.