New review: The Song from Somewhere Else by A.F. Harrold illustrated by Levi Pinfold

I was delighted to receive the beautiful paperback version of this book holding the wonderfully quirky tale of Frank and Nick and some very strange music.  This is another fantastic story by A.F. Harrold that warms the heart and stirs the imagination, with incredible illustrations by Levi Pinfold.

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The Song from Somewhere Else by A.F .Harrold illustrated by Levi Pinfold

The last person Frank wants to be rescued by is Nick Underbridge. No one likes Nick. He’s big, he’s weird and he smells – or so everyone in Frank’s class thinks.  And yet, there’s something nice about him, and the strange music that plays in his house.  Something that makes Frank feel happy for the first time in forever.  But there’s more to Nick, and to his house, than meets the eye, and soon Frank realises she isn’t the only one keeping secrets. Or the only one who needs help…..

The Song from SomewhereElse is a beautifully written tale about friendship, family and belonging. Frank has suffered at the hands of bullies for as long as she can remember. With a persistently irritating Dad who just doesn’t ‘get’ things and a Mum who is always working, Frank is often on her own trying to avoid the vile Neil Noble and his two cronies, who delight in tormenting her.  One day when the strange and friendless Nick comes to her rescue, a new friendship begins.  This is utterly believable and described with the perfect amount of awkwardness and tentative steps as both Frank and Nick slowly begin to relate to each other. Frank finds herself oddly comforted by Nick and his home, especially when she discovers ethereal music coming from his cellar.  Strange secrets are revealed and while the world around her makes less and less sense, Frank realises she is not the only one who suffers. Her curiosity is palpable and whilst her choices lead to a troubling outcome, you can’t help but empathise with her.

The narrative is gentle but depicts the harsh reality of being bullied and resulting consequences. The beautiful illustrations capture the story’s other-worldliness and the fantasy elements perfectly. I found myself transported into Frank’s adolescent world feeling her worry; her fascination with the music she hears and her constant conscience driving her decisions.   The Song from Somewhere Else weaves a clever plot and at its heart it’s a timeless lyrical story about belonging, friendship and bearing the consequences of our choices.

The Song from Somewhere Else is published by Bloomsbury With thanks to Bloomsbury for sending me this book to review.

Find out more at www.afharroldkids.com and www.levipinfold.com

New review: The Land of Neverendings by Kate Saunders

I’ve enjoyed many of Kate Saunders books for children – this one is no exception and I’d thoroughly recommend it. Poignant, heart-warming and full of creativity The Land of Neverendings is a great read.

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The Land of Neverendings by Kate Saunders

The cat flap opened. Emily thought a wild animal was coming into the house. But the muddy creature that climbed through had four little wheels and a tail. It spoke in a voice like rough sandpaper. ‘Come on, you two – it’s nice and warm in here.’ What if there exists a world powered by imagination? A world of silliness, where humans and their toys live on long after they’ve left the Hard World . . . and what if the door between that world and this one was broken? Welcome to the Land of Neverendings.

The Land of Neverendings is moving story about a young girl Emily, whose disabled sister Holly dies, leaving her family bereft and Emily lost in a world of grief and imagination.  I hadn’t been expecting this narrative but the best stories are the ones that surprise you and this one did. I’ve always loved the idea of toys coming to life and being able to chat away with your favourite teddy bear would be just brilliant.  After her sister dies, Emily starts a journal to help her capture her memories; the more she recalls about the fun times she, Holly and Holly’s favourite toy Bluey had, the more the two worlds collide. It seems the magical world Emily created through the stories she told her sister, Smockeroon, really does exists as do the toys that live in it. And somehow the door has opened to this world, something she can only share with her babysitter Ruth, who suddenly finds she can also see and hear the toys.  For Ruth too has lost someone she loves and knows exactly how Emily feels.

The relationship between Emily and Ruth is just lovely. As Emily experiences the varying degrees of sadness, anger and even difficulties with her parents and friends who can’t deal with the death of her sister any more than she can, she is able to share all of this with Ruth who is conveniently on hand with chocolate biscuits and cups of tea. The magical narrative full of original ideas, lightens the story and creates opportunities for lots of laughs. With a host of enchanting characters including the Barbie dolls (hilarious) and soft toys Hugo and Smiffy (gorgeous), the story takes the reader on a wonderful and poignant adventure through a world of imagination.

On a personal note, I lost my eldest sister when I was 19. She too was disabled and her death like the death of any sibling left a huge hole in all of our lives. So I could truly relate to The Land of Neverendings and Emily and her experiences of grief and felt they were handled with the right amount of tenderness and humour.  This middle grade story is a celebration of the power of memory to keep those we love alive – and the power of imagination to bring joy.

The Land of Neverendings is published by Faber & Faber.

 

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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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 reviews: great reads for Spring!

Since starting the New Year as a ‘commuter’ many friends ask me how can I stand it?! Thankfully as a reader, I now have a whole lot more time to read – the perfect activity when you’re stuck on a train, even when there’s delays or no seats! So here’s just three of the six great books I’ve read over the last two weeks (more review to come!):

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I Swapped My Brother on the Internet by Jo Simmons

I can get a new brother? On the internet?’ Jonny muttered. `Oh sweet mangoes of heaven!’ Everyone has dreamed of being able to get rid of their brother or sister at one time or another – but for Jonny, the dream is about to become a reality with SiblingSwap.com! What could be better than someone awesome to replace Ted, Jonny’s obnoxious older brother. But finding the perfect brother isn’t easy, as Jonny discovers when Sibling Swap sends him a line of increasingly bizarre replacements: first a merboy, then a brother raised by meerkats, and then the ghost of Henry the Eighth! What’s coming next?! Suddenly old Ted isn’t looking so bad. But can Jonny ever get him back?

I’m sure many of us have been there – wishing we could somehow magically change our brother or sister who is driving us mad! But perhaps we haven’t all had our wish come true like Jonny. I Swapped My Brother on the Internet is a brilliantly funny tale of getting more than you bargained for – especially when using the internet – and finding out the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. With a thoroughly likeable hero in Jonny and a whole host of hilarious characters, readers will laugh out loud as Jonny works his way through the Sibling Swap replacements – none of whom quite live up to his expectations.  I particularly enjoyed Henry VII’s ghost as a potential new sibling!! Fast paced and full of gags (anyone heard of the Hanging Pants of Doom?!) and with fun, fantastic and lively illustrations, I Swapped My Brother on the Internet is a great read for middle grade children.  And with the added bonus of a positive message about not taking your sibling for granted, this could the answer to solving some of those sibling arguments!

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I Swapped My Brother on the Internet is published Bloomsbury.

Find out more www.bloomsbury.com and www.nathanreedillustration.com

A Taxonomy of Love by Rachael Allen

The moment Spencer meets Hope the summer before seventh g34227670rade, it’s . . . something at first sight. He knows she’s special, possibly even magical. The pair becomes fast friends, climbing trees and planning world travels. After years of being outshone by his older brother and teased because of his Tourette’s syndrome, Spencer finally feels like he belongs. But as Hope and Spencer get older and life gets messier, the clear label of “friend” gets messier, too. Through sibling feuds and family tragedies, new relationships and broken hearts, the two grow together and apart, and Spencer, an aspiring scientist, tries to map it all out using his trusty system of taxonomy. He wants to identify and classify their relationship, but in the end, he finds that life doesn’t always fit into easy-to-manage boxes, and it’s this messy complexity that makes life so rich and beautiful.

A totally enjoyable and at times very moving YA story of friendship, romance, love, family, teenage angst, loss and growing up.  A Taxonomy of Love covers a multitude of experiences reflecting the many and varied struggles that shape our lives.  Spencer is a brave character whose struggles with Tourette’s are well portrayed, creating instant empathy and giving the reader an insight into living with a neurological condition. I loved his use of taxonomy to try and make sense of things. Hope has a wonderful zest for life, which is abruptly altered by unexpected tragedy. Her subsequent self-destruct is painful to observe.   The ‘Will they? Won’t they? thread keeps you hooked – there is joy amidst the heartache and I loved the ending (no spoilers!). Through prose, letters and text conversations over six years, A Taxonomy of Love brings to life the relationship between the two protagonists, Spencer and Hope and their wider family relationships, creating people you care about, are rooting for and feel like you really know.

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A Taxonomy of Love is published by Abrams and Chronicle.

Find out more  rachaelallenwrites.blogspot.co.uk and www.abramsandchronicle.co.uk

 

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Eloise Undercover by Sarah Baker

The door to the library banged open. I looked around for a place to hide, but it was too late. An angry German voice barked an order. Boots clicked on the wooden floor of the corridor as he shouted at someone behind him. He there was a terrible silence. He was here.

It’s 1944 in Nazi-Occupied France.  Eloise’s world is in turmoil and her father is missing. In a world at war who can she trust? What secrets will she discover in the search for her father?

Eloise Undercover is a thrilling middle grade tale of survival, daring deeds and above all, hope in dark times. Living under Nazi occupation brings with it the stark realities of the war; these are dealt with in an age appropriate way, whilst not being made light of. The story features the fantastic location of Maison de Noyer from Sarah Baker’s previous novel Through the Mirror Door (see my review here) which I thought really clever; I love the idea of a house experiencing so much history through the ages. Twelve year old Eloise is a wonderful heroine who has a huge amount of courage and determination. With her father and friends gone, Eloise’s grandmother Amma is the only person left to care for her; but Amma has secrets of her own. Once Eloise uncovers the truth behind her father’s disappearance – that he was in fact part of the resistance – she insists she too can help fight against the Nazis and the adventures begin in earnest. With edge-of-your-seat action, clever plot twists and a cast of characters who embody both the brave and cruel sides of war, Eloise Undercover is a really great read, bringing history to life and reminding us of the importance of hope, trust and friendship.

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Eloise Undercover is published by Catnip Publishing.

Find out more www.bysarahbaker.com and www.bouncemarketing.co.uk

With thanks to Bloomsbury, Abrams and Chronicle and Catnip for sending me these books to review.

New review: Greta Zargo by A.F Harrold illustrated by Joe Todd-Stanton

It’s always exciting to read the first book in a new series – but even more so when the book is by A F Harrold, a fantastic writer of books and poems.  Greta Zargo doesn’t disappoint with a mystery to solve, lots of silliness, some helpful anecdotes and immensely likeable characters,  it really is just a great book for children to read.

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Greta Zargo and the Death Robots from Outer Space by A F Harrold illustrated by Joe Todd-Stanton

Greta Zargo doesn’t know it, but she is the only one who can save planet earth from the death robots coming to destroy it! But right now, she’s a bit busy finding out who stole all the cakes! Warning: this book contains robots, peanuts, squirrels, trousers, an eleven-year-old spelling mistake, baths and, yes, lots of cake!

There’s not much for an intrepid would-be junior reporter to, well, report on, in Upper Lowerbridge, to create an award-winning, summer holiday story.  So Greta Zargo has to settle for finding a cake-thief, little realising that the real scoop is the planet-conquering robots making their way towards earth.  Greta’s no ordinary eleven-year old having been orphaned and left to fend for herself since the age of eight. She is determined to discover the culprit, working her way through a list of suspects – some of whom are not impressed to find themselves being questioned!  Meanwhile, the strange silvery robots approach, intent on finding The Great Zargo to ask if they can have planet earth in order to add data to the Harknow-Bumfurly-Histlock Big Book of Galactic Facts.  A small spelling error puts Greta unwittingly in place to save Earth from a terrible fate.  Will she succeed?

Fun and full of imagination, Greta Zargo is a fantastic sci-fi mystery adventure.  The two narratives of cake thievery and death-defying space robots run alongside each other brilliantly; aided by quirky and humorous anecdotal notes at the side of the page. Greta is a feisty character, with admirable determination, encouraged by her very eccentric and rather wonderful Aunt Tabitha, who I loved. Greta’s journalistic efforts are put to the test by an amusing cast of characters – including a giant squirrel!  The space sequences are hugely imaginative and full of impressive technical jargon and madcap space names. Although comical, it’s somewhat bittersweet as various weird and wonderful aliens inadvertently allow the complete destruction of their planets – perhaps a lesson for us all.   Illustrations throughout capture the quirkiness of the tale and help to create a really engaging, warm-hearted story.  I won’t give away the ending, but how refreshing  – how very polite death robots can be…!

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Find out more at www.afharroldkids.com and http://joetoddstanton.com/

With thanks to Bloomsbury Books for sending me this book to review