BLOG TOUR: Spylark by Danny Rurlander

Spylark Jacket lowresI’m kicking off the autumn term on the blog with the first stop on the blog tour for Spylark by Danny Rurlander. What a great way to bring in the new term!  Spylark is a fantastic middle-grade thriller full of adventure, lots of action and some great characters – not to mention a really cool and clever idea at the heart of the story!  Spylark is set in the author’s native Lake District and uses the islands that inspired Swallows and Amazons as the backdrop. Danny Rurlander’s debut novel is a perfect adventure of the absolutely classic kind. With themes about the importance of friendship, bravery, terrorism and technology, readers will be swept up into the daring mission to save a Very Important Person from assassination. A thoroughly riveting read, Spylark is a must for middle grade bookshelves!

Danny Rurlander Photo.pngDanny Rurlander studied English Literature at the University of East Anglia, and worked in the finance sector for several years. He now serves on the staff team of a multi-cultural, city-centre church. While at University Danny spent two years learning to fly with RAF, as an officer cadet in the Cambridge University Air Squadron.  He has lived in Austria, Kenya, Devon and Australia, but always longed to return to his native Lake District where he grew up exploring the fells and camping on islands, so it’s no wonder his descriptions of the landscape where Spylark is set are so real! I’m delighted to welcome Danny to the blog today to share some insight into what inspiration means to him.

Inspiration

“There’s a moment, roughly half way through the book, when Jim Rothwell, an older man whose wisdom and life experience help the child protagonists navigate some of the trickier moments of their adventure, offers a challenging view of love.

 ‘Joel, my lad, love is not always a feeling. Sometimes it’s a decision.’

This down to earth and counter-intuitive idea of love is also true, in my experience, of ‘inspiration’.  Inspiration, for the fiction writer, is not so much a feeling, but a decision, an act of the will.  If you sit around waiting for it to turn up, you’ll never write anything. But where does inspiration come from?  The answer is so obvious it seems almost unnecessary to say it.  Inspiration comes from two spheres: what you already know and what you don’t know, but know you need to know.

In writing Spylark a number of key influences and experiences (the first sphere of inspiration) found their way into the book: my own childhood adventures in the part of the world where the book is set; a first-hand knowledge of flying aeroplanes gained through my time with the RAF; and perhaps most of all, memories of books I read as a child.  In particular I grew up not only reading Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons adventures but trying to live them out!

Spylark is a classic action-adventure thriller, involving spies, criminals, and a group of child heroes who save the day.  But the book plays with this genre by means of a key technological concept. Tom, the main character, who has suffered a life-changing accident several years before the story begins, ‘escapes’ the harsh realities of his life by means of his home made drone.  This enables him to be in two places at once, and enables the narrative to switch between locations in the blink of an eye.

This brings me to the second source of inspiration – what you don’t know, but know you need to know. Before I started I knew nothing at all about drones.  So I had to find out enough to make the story convincing.  Writers traditionally call this ‘research’ but that has always sounded rather outfacing and dull when you are itching to get going with the story.  I prefer to think of it as fueling the tanks for the creative energy of writing.

The internet makes this easy of course. I subscribed to a few drone blogs to understand the technical stuff.  I then tried to get my head around what could actually be possible, and how a terrorist might use this technology for destructive purposes.  (At one stage if – for some reason – my hard drive had been examined by the police, it could have looked rather suspicious!)  But it’s a good idea not to rely too heavily on Google.  I also bought a book on drones, went out to the local beach to watch people flying them, and met up with a local enthusiast to watch him at work and ask him questions.

The key to this is not to think of what you don’t know as a barrier but an opportunity.  I often say that writers are nosey-parkers!  They learn to listen in on other people’s conversations on the bus; they observe the world around them in fine detail, tune into the stories of other people’s lives and actively imagine the world from someone else’s point of view.  After all, one of the reasons children read is to learn about what they don’t know.  If as a writer you can learn something new, the chances are the story will be even more vivid and fresh than those that come from your experience.”

Find out more at dannyrurlander.com and chickenhousebooks.com. SPYLARK by Danny Rurlander is out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House)

With thanks to Chicken House for sending me this book to review. Be sure to follow the rest of the blog tour:

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Book of the Month: The Land of Roar by Jenny McLachlan

book of the monthThe Land of Roar by Jenny McLachlan, published by Egmont, is a joyous celebration of the wonder of imagination. I absolutely loved it – not just because it took me back to being a young girl playing imaginary games in the garden, but because it is storytelling at its best. So I’m really pleased to make it my Book of the Month!  It’s Jenny McLachlan’s middle grade debut and demonstrates her skill at weaving wonderful stories full of heart and imagination.  Illustrations by Ben Mantle throughout will no doubt bring this to life if the cover art is anything to go by (I saw a proof copy).

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The Land of Roar by Jenny McLachlan

When Arthur and Rose were little they were heroes in the Land of Roar, an imaginary world that they found by climbing through the folding bed in their Grandad’s attic. Roar was filled with things they loved – dragons, mermaids, ninja wizards and adventure – as well as things that scared them (including a very creepy scarecrow…). Now the twins are eleven, Roar is just a memory. But when they help Grandad clean out the attic, Arthur is horrified as Grandad is pulled into the folding bed and vanishes. Is he playing a joke? Or is Roar…..real?

Arthur and Rose might be twins but as now they’re eleven, and secondary school beckons, they couldn’t be more different. Rose is only interested in her friends and her mobile phone; whereas Arthur longs for things as they used to be when he and his sister played together.  Sibling frustrations simmer off the page, so when Grandad suggests sorting out the attic so they can create a more grown-up den, the twins are given a welcome distraction. But as they sort through the junk in the attic, reminders of their imaginary games are rife– an old rocking horse, a wizard hat and even a map of Roar. Is someone trying to get their attention?  It seems that way especially when Arthur is convinced he can hear the ominous rustle of feathers from the Z-bed – the gateway to Roar. Rose refuses to be drawn back into her childhood world but Arthur is convinced in her heart, she remembers Roar – and does care about it.  And he’s right. For when their Grandad vanishes and Arthur follows to rescue him, Rose isn’t far behind. It’s clear the twins’ connection to Roar is more important that they could ever have realised! Together with their best imaginary friends – Wininja the Wizard, Prosecco the Moonlight Stallion and dragons Pickle and Vlad they must defeat their arch nemesis and surely the most creepy of villains, Crowky the winged scarecrow, in order to save Grandad.

The Land of Roar is just as fantastic as you could imagine and you are quickly immersed in the magic, as Arthur and Rose rediscover their role as Heroes of Roar.  With engaging characters, just the right amount of humour and a whole lot of heart, this story will bring out your inner child and you’ll want to go through the z-bed too!  Jenny McLachlan’s skill is creating stories with characters you care about, with narratives that are as exciting as they are heart-warming and The Land of Roar is no exception. Grandad is delightful with his eccentricity and care for his grandchildren. Rose and Arthur’s changing relationship is perfectly captured as they prepare for their new school.  Their trip to Roar reminds them (and us) that you never have to stop believing in the power of imagination. It’s no wonder my son and niece were so inspired by it they played for hours in the garden their very own imaginary quest, using a map to guide them! I hope there will be more adventures to come – Hear me Roar!

Find out more at www.jennymclachlan.com

With thanks to Egmont for sending me this book to review.

 

 

 

Guest post and review: The Switching Hour by Damaris Young

Today is publication day for a brilliant debut middle-grade novel from author Damaris Young, The Switching Hour – congratulations! Damaris studied on the Writing for Young People MA at Bath University, where she wrote this novel taking inspiration from her childhood in Southern and Central Africa.  Damaris now lives in the UK and I’m very excited to be hosting a guest post by her on the blog today!

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Cover art: Kelsy Buzzell

The Switching Hour is set in a land suffering from a terrible drought, which has unleashed a dark and dangerous creature, Badoko, who snatches children away to eat their dreams. One night, Amaya’s little brother Kalen is taken and Amaya embarks on a nerve-wracking, spine-tingling chase to rescue him.  She only has three days before The Sorrow Sickness sets in and all memory of her brother is lost.  Accompanied by her faithful companion, her goat Tau, Amaya meets Mally, and finds the true value of friendship as together they search for Kalen in the heart of the Blackened Forest. Full of bravery and heart, The Switching Hour, weaves a wonderful tale, drawing you in, bewitching the senses and showing the true power of family bonds, in the face of absolute peril. A fantastic read and one that highlights the havoc that climate change can cause – watch out for the Badoko!

I’m delighted to welcome author Damaris Young to the blog today to share her thoughts on writing about the weather in The Swtiching Hour and how it represents a force to be reckoned with.

Writing About Weather In The Switching Hour by Damaris Young

“Writing about weather can very easily get overlooked when you’re speeding ahead to get the exciting bits of the plot, but it is such a vital part of writing a story. Weather is a key player and often drives the action by affecting the characters behaviour or mood, or adds tension and conflict, like a storm on the horizon.

I find that it’s all too easy to resort to clichés when it comes to writing about weather, so I allocate time to really think about new and fresh ways to describe it. I find it helpful to go outside into the garden or the park and close my eyes; can I smell the rain? Can I hear the wind? Can I feel the cold or the heat?

In The Switching Hour, it was very important to get the weather right, as it is set during a terrible drought. In my story the drought unleashes a creature that is my interpretation of climate change, a monster that eats the dreams of the young in much the same way that climate change affects the generations to come.

To immerse the reader in the story, I had to focus on some of the main elements of weather: wind, temperature, pressure, humidity, clouds, and precipitation. In every scene, I had to be thinking how the temperature would affect the characters, how the lack of clouds would mean the sun was brighter and harsher, the lack of wind would mean there was no reprieve from the heat. My protagonist, Amaya, seeks out shade on her journey but the ground beneath her feet becomes increasingly too hot to walk on. The lack of rain means that the leaves fall off the trees, the ground cracks and the food resources become scarce.

I lived in the Kalahari Desert in Botswana for many years growing up, where there is low rainfall for large parts of the year and where the natural plants and animals are adapted to the climate. I drew on that experience to write about the heat and the lack of rain, but what I wanted for The Switching Hour was to write a story about an extreme weather event and its devastating effects, much like climate change has an impact on global weather patterns.

For me, the most important thing to remember when writing about weather was not to underestimate its value to the story. I wanted the drought to be a character in itself and so I treated it like a character, giving it motives and thoughts and desires through Badeko, the Dream Eater. This in turn, changed the weather from an afterthought to becoming something real and powerful, a force to be reckoned with.”

Find out more www.damarisyoungauthor.com 

With thanks to Scholastic for sending me this book to review and inviting me to host a guest post.

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New reviews: Brilliant books from Barrington Stoke

Barrington Stoke publish really great books. That about sums it up! If you want stories that are engaging, entertaining, thought-provoking and totally accessible, then these are for you. And written by award-winning children’s writers and illustrators to boot!  Read on for my pick of their recent releases, great to engage those children and young people who aren’t avid readers – as well as brilliant quick reads for those who are.

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Special Delivery by Jonathan Meres with illustrations by Hannah Coulson is a touching tale of helping others and forging friendships across the generations.  Frank wants a new bike, so in order to save some money towards buying one he helps his sister with her paper round. And that’s how he meets an old lady who loves cowboys. Frank thinks she’s really cool and when he finds her in the park, a bit lost and confused, he decides to help her find home.  Little does he know his kindness will be repaid and the promise of a new bike won’t seem so far away! Sensitively handling the difficult subject of dementia for younger readers, this is a heart-warming story that will bring a smile to your face.

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The Unlucky Eleven by Phil Earle illustrated by Steve May introduces the hilarious antics of the Saints football team.  Due to their excruciatingly poor form, the team think they are cursed and do everything they can to beat it. Unfortunately their attempts lead to more embarrassment and even injury! It’s up to Stanley to save the day and help his team-mates believe in themselves. Perfectly capturing the world of football, friendship and superstition around sports this is a great fun read for football fans young and old.

These two titles are from the Little Gems range which brings together the best children’s authors and illustrators and clever design to create super readable stories, for children aged 5-8.

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The Spectacular Revenge of Suzi Sims by Vivian French illustrated by Julia Patton features a sports day drama as Suzi’s excitement about sports day is cut short.   Suzi gets off on the wrong foot with Mrs Grit, a supply teacher. Mrs Grit and Suzi’s rival, Barbie, turn Suzi’s life upside down where everything goes wrong and it seems sports day dreams of success are fading fast. Brilliantly bringing to life the perils of school from dealing with class rivals, unfair punishments and worst of all, a horrible supply teacher, young readers will relate to and thoroughly enjoy this story!

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Gamer by Chris Bradford is a thrilling adventure and the first in the Virtual Kombat series.  Set in a dystopian future, where people escape their despair into the world of Virtual Kombat, Scott is a street kid with big dreams. Like everyone else around him, he wants to join Virtual Kombat and get off the streets for good. When it seems his dream to comes true, he can’t believe his luck.  A gripping narrative captures the peril of this story as Scott realises Virtual Kombat is not what he thought – the pain is real and so is the danger – perhaps it’s not just a game after all. A great choice for all those young gamers out there, rereleased with a new cover, the story doesn’t hold back and readers will be hooked from the first page.

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Eagle Warrior by Gill Lewis is a beautifully written tale focusing on endangered wildlife and conservation.  When a golden eagle is found settled near her family farm, Bobbie is determined to protect it – especially when it becomes clear the eagle is in danger.  The challenge before her is made even more difficult when it seems Bobbie will be sent to boarding school, she does not want to leave her beautiful moorland home. A family row ensues with Bobbie stuck in the middle. Utterly thought-provoking and believable, the story highlights man’s disregard for wildlife even in the face of the most magnificent of species and how standing up to this can make all the difference to conservation. It’s a lesson Bobbie’s whole family learn from and the result is a new found respect for the place they call home – and each other.  The author has pledged her PLR royalties derived from this book to Wild Justice, a new organisation challenging the legalities of wildlife law.

These titles are from the middle grade category.  These books are also written by the best children’s authors and are designed to be engaging quick reads – perfect for emerging, reluctant and dyslexic readers. Clever editing and design tricks ensure stories are totally accessible.

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Because of You by Eve Ainsworth is a timely and relevant story dealing with issues around cyber-bullying and merging families.  Teens will undoubtedly identify with Poppy and the challenges she faces as her mum’s new boyfriend moves in, along with his daughter Kayla.  The reality of family break-ups and new beginnings is palpable as Poppy’s voice shares the heartbreak and frustration she feels. Coupled with spiralling problems at school, let down by friends and family, it’s a huge relief (for the reader too!) when Poppy realises she has people on her side – people who care about her and believe in her.  Both heart-rending and heart-warming this story shines a light on the pain of divorce and cyber bullying.  Hope is never far away once you recognise the importance of being honest as a family.

This is a teen title, taken from a range which offers fantastic stories to engage teen readers, often about gritty and relevant topics. Even the most reluctant of teen readers will be drawn to these well-written and accessible books.

Find out more about the brilliant books available from Barrington Stoke here. With thanks to Barrington Stoke for sending me these books to review.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Guest post: The True Colours of Coral Glen by Juliette Forrest

Today on the blog I’m sharing my review of The True Colours of Coral Glen by Juliette Forrest (published by Scholastic on 4th July) and a guest post from the author.

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The True Colours of Coral Glen by Juliette Forrest

Coral Glen sees the world around her through a rainbow of colours not visible to others – a day full of adventure is Treasure Island Gold but one with a maths test is Stormy Canyon Grey. When her beloved grandma dies, Coral can’t conjure the colour to match how heartbroken she is.  She meets a mysterious boy who offers to help her say a last goodbye to her Gran – in exchange, Coral must stop an evil spirit from escaping the graveyard, and go on a daring adventure full of witches, ghosts and other things lurking beneath the surface of her not-so-ordinary town. 

A totally original idea and brilliant storytelling combine to make The True Colours of Coral Glen by Juliette Forrest a heart-warming tale full of magic. Coral’s ability to see the world in rainbow of colours brings to life the world around her in a way no one else can understand – except her grandmother who is no longer there. Coral thinks it’s all her fault so when she meets a ghost-boy, Lyart, in the graveyard after her grandmother’s funeral she accepts his offer of help and begins the seemingly impossible task set by him. Coral’s world takes on a new array of colours as she learns to cast spells, meets witches and talking animals and takes on the evil Muckle Red. At the heart of the tale is Coral’s grief at the loss of her grandmother and how she bravely overcomes her feelings of sadness and guilt, with the help of her new friends. The True Colours of Coral Glen is a story full of imagination, encouraging us to see the wonder of the world in all its colours, even in the most difficult of circumstances.

I’m delighted to welcome to the author, Juliette Forrest to the blog today with a brilliant guest post! 

The importance of watching other authors by Juliette Forrest

Juliette Forrest high-resMy first author event took place last year. I was on stage at Hay Festival with two other well-known writers. I had been fortunate enough to attend an Industry Lab by Scottish Book Trust, which was run to help authors navigate their way through events. Thank heavens for Scottish Book Trust is all I can say, otherwise, I would have been utterly clueless. I pitched up at Hay Festival and braced myself for the unexpected. The festival was such an amazing experience and by far the best bit was being able to observe other writers. By the end of the day, I knew I needed to be more knowledgeable on writing tips for dyslexic kids, it was wise to have a selection of pens in case the only one you owned died on you, and that kids went wild for a badge or a bookmark. I also found out the messages scribbled inside books should be kept short, so people didn’t lose the will to live in the queue, it was prudent not to use your real signature, and even though I’m awful at multi-tasking, it was polite to engage in some chat whilst signing. And not to bat an eyelid when a parent gives you a name that is so unbelievable, you think they are pulling your leg.

A lot of the time I’m asked where I get my inspiration from. It even happened to me immediately after finishing a talk on where I get my inspiration from. Although remaining polite, I recapped briefly over a few of the things I’d previously mentioned, and the child appeared satisfied with my answer. Not long after this, I went to see a top author who was being grilled by schoolkids. He was asked a whole string of similar questions, in quick succession. The writer took his time and made sure he gave a different answer to each child, making them feel as though they’d asked the most interesting question in the world. Here was a true professional at work and I learned so much more about how to handle myself as an author that day.

I think it’s difficult for new writers being flung into the strange and unpredictable world of events. Especially, if you’re like me; shy with occasional dry mouth. I’m happy to report that I’m finding my feet and love working with kids. I’m asking for feedback after every talk or workshop, so I can keep on improving, and so far the comments have been extremely complimentary. If you’ve got all this looming ahead of you and the thought is making you queasy – just remember to be yourself. And try to see as many authors at work as you can. By learning from them, you can be sure your event will always have a happy ending.

Juliette Forrest’s first novel, Twister, was a Sunday Times Book of the Week, the Guardian’s ‘must-read’ kid’s book of the summer and won Calderdale Book of the Year 2019. Her second book, The True Colours of Coral Glen, was released on 4th July. She is in her element delivering workshops and talks for schools, libraries, bookshops and festivals. 

Find out more at www.julietteforrest.co.uk and www.scholastic.co.uk. With thanks to Scholastic for sending me this book to review.

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New review: The Worldquake series by Scarlett Thomas

On the blog today, a review of a series of books that have been on my radar for months, but it wasn’t until Book #3 arrived in the post that I took the opportunity to read them all! TheWorldquake series is set in a dystopian future where modern technology has been destroyed.  The non-magical world exists alongside the magical world, with opposing sides working to defeat the other. The story centres on Effie Truelove and her friends navigating their way through magic school and trying to save the universe! 

The Worldquake series by Scarlett Thomas

There are three titles in this brilliant fantasy middle grade series – Dragons Green, The Chosen Ones and Galloglass. Bursting with magic, the story follows Effie and her friends as they discover their magical powers, explore the Otherworld and battle against the Diberi who are intent on destroying the universe. Effie learns all about magic from her grandfather Griffin Truelove but even he couldn’t prepare her for what lies ahead.  When he disappears, he leaves her his library of very special books – which are more than just books; they hold the answers to everything (which of course made me love the story even more!).

It’s hard to sum up this fantastic series in just a short paragraph – there is so much in it and whilst Effie is the central character the supporting cast add plenty of dynamic to the twisting and turning plot. There’s human interest throughout such as dealing with step-parents, boring lessons, difficult teachers and finding friendships alongside the many fantasy elements of the narrative. As Effie and her friends discover their ‘kharacter’ – their unique magical personality and abilities – the plot thickens and nothing is as it seems. The magical realm beckons and Effie delves deeper into the Otherworld to find where she truly belongs. The Diberi threaten at every turn and at times, even Effie’s own father seems to be against her.

Each book builds the mystery creating a magical world you can’t wait to dive into again. With thrilling action and lots of humour, heart and heroism the Worldquake series will have you hooked until the final page.

Find out more at www.worldquake.co.uk .With thanks to Canongate for sending me these books to review.