Tag Archives: Middle grade

BLOG TOUR: City of Rust by Gemma Fowler

It’s time to enter the City of Rust! I’m sharing my review of this exciting adventure on the final stop of the blog tour today. Published by Chicken House, City of Rust is the debut middle-grade novel by Gemma Fowler and introduces a sci-fi world of robots, space junk and a daring heroine with her side-kick gecko.

Railey dreams of winning the biggest drone race on Earth with her bio-robotic gecko, Atti. But when her chance is crushed, she flees skywards, hiding out among the Junkers who mine the rubbish orbiting the planet. Here though, Railey discovers something far worse – a huge trash bomb will destroy the world…unless she and Atti do something about it. This is the race of a lifetime….

City of Rust builds a world and characters you believe in right from the opening scenes; there is so much to enjoy in this story. Set in a dystopian future where the world has been turned into a giant junkyard caused by decades of trash, and different ‘spheres’ make up the rust-filled planet. Most people live in Boxville, a city made of giant containers. Scraping a living amongst them, is brave Railey, her aging and delightful half-Junker Gran and staunch friend Atti, and we soon discover there is more going on than day to day junking. After the failure of the drone race, Gran reveals a glimpse of her past and with a bounty hunter robot chasing them, the adventure really begins. Told with a fast-paced plot and engaging narrative, we follow Railey and Atti as they manage to escape, seeking shelter with the Junkers – the clans who mine the rubbish orbiting the Earth known as the Soup. Sinister villains lurk, somehow connected to her Gran’s past life and Railey must use all her engineering ingenuity, with the help of Atti and new Junker friends, to save the world from a dastardly plot.

Full of action, imagination and a whole world of sci-fi wonder to discover, City of Rust is definitely one to add to your bookshelf!

With thanks to Chicken House for sending me this book to review and inviting me to participate in the blog tour which you can follow here:

New review: After the War by Tom Palmer

As we approach Remembrance Sunday, I wanted to share my review of After the War by Tom Palmer. One thing I now ready myself for when I read a book by Tom Palmer is the huge emotion his storytelling evokes. After the War is a brilliantly written story, published by Barrington Stoke and set in Summer 1945, inspired by the true story of the Windermere boys.

Summer 1945. The Second World War is finally over and Yossi, Leo and Mordecai are among three hundred children who arrive in the English Lake District. Having survived the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps, they’ve finally reached a place of safety and peace, where they can hopefully begin to recover. But Yossi is haunted by thoughts of his missing father and disturbed by terrible nightmares. As he waits desperately for news from home, he fears that Mordecai and Leo – the closest thing to family he has left – will move on without him. Will life by the beautiful Lake Windermere be enough to bring hope back into all their lives?

After the War is moving from the very first page – even the Foreword is an absolute eyeopener, written by Trevor Avery of the Lake District Holocaust Project. I had never heard of the Windermere Boys nor the Project, which seeks to share the stories of the children who were brought to the Lake District following their release from captivity in concentration camps during the Second World War. It is instantly clear After the War is well-researched and depicts the real-life events with great sensitivity. The three central characters are all inspired by the true stories of survivors.

Yossi, Leo and Mordecai all experienced horrors we can only imagine. This is contrasted with the immense kindness and generosity of the people of the Lake District who look after them when they arrive in Cumbria. The boys have to learn to trust again, having been so appallingly treated by the Nazis. They also have to start to look to the future, each with their own ideas of what they want to do. Yossi is desperate for news of his missing father who he last saw in the Camp – and when the Red Cross arrive to offer help in reuniting families, Yossi leaps at the chance to see if his father can be found. He cannot think about anything until he knows where his father is. Mordecai finds solace in his Jewish faith, contemplating living in a Jewish community in Leeds and Leo thinks the best place for them is Palestine, where Jews won’t be persecuted.

The narrative intertwines the boys’ experiences with the those of the local people, including a family whose son has not yet returned from fighting. Even though they are suffering, they still help support the Windermere Boys. There are also glimpses of the treatment of the boys by the Nazis at the outbreak of war and during their time in the Camps. Whilst not gratuitous in any way, the stark reality of the holocaust and the conflict as a whole is clear. I never cease to be stunned and appalled by man’s inhumanity to man – and especially to children. In one scene as the boys get used to their new surroundings, Yossi refuses to get up, asking why should he bother after so much has happened to him and his loved ones. It’s only when he recalls his father’s words “…if we let ourselves go, the Germans will think they were right: that we are not human.”, that he realises that getting up every day was an act of defiance in the face of their persecutors – and still is.

As Yossi, Mordecai and Leo recover, they slowly being to trust again and see hope for the future, helped by the hard work of those looking after them. The beautiful setting of the Lake District provides a stunning backdrop to the harsh reality they have left behind – and must have been part of the healing process for all those who survived. Beautifully told, After the War is an opportunity to celebrate the bravery and courage and determination of those who survived persecution by the Nazis. It’s also an opportunity to celebrate the kindness of the people of Windermere as they helped hundreds of children recover from the horrors of the holocaust.

But most importantly, this story is an act of Remembrance – both in its creation and for everyone that reads it. We cannot ever forget the service and sacrifice of wartime heroes and ordinary people, who secured our freedom and restored hope to so many.

Find out more www.tompalmer.co.uk and www.barringtonstoke.co.uk. With thanks to Barrington Stoke for sending me this book to review.

New review: The Tigers in the Tower by Julia Golding

Julia Golding has written a whole host of books for children and young adults. The Cat Royal series and Companions Quartet in particular were scarcely ever on the shelves in the school library, such was their popularity! When I heard about her latest middle-grade novel, The Tigers in the Towers published by Lion Hudson, I was intrigued to read it.

Sahira’s family are travelling to England to deliver two majestic Indian tigers to the menagerie in the Tower of London when tragedy strikes and sickness steals Sahira’s parents from her on the journey. Heartbroken and alone in a miserable and dangerous orphanage in London, Sahira is determined to protect her tigers. But to do so she must set out on an adventure and use all her powers of persuasion to engage the help of some new friends along the way. Can the quest to find her tigers a safe home, lead Sahira to find her own place of hope and belonging in this strange and foreign land?

Julia writes fantastic historical fiction and this is no exception. From the first page, you are drawn into nineteenth century London, with all its sights, sounds and smells! Sahira is a courageous soul, whose determination to protect her tigers is admirable. She faces barriers on all sides – from the cruel Mr Pence who runs the orphanage to the sons of the local crime family, bullies Tommy and Alf Newton, as well as being in a foreign country and carrying the grief of losing her parents. With every page we discover more about Sahira’s childhood in India, her English father’s heritage and the family who seem to have disowned her. Historical references and cameo appearances, including Charles Darwin and Robert Peel, add to the colourful cast of characters and bring to life a fascinating period of history. Weaved into the story are themes of grief, prejudice, equality, animal conservation and friendship and there is much we can learn from Sahira’s experiences. Tiger in the Towers reads like a classic and is definitely one to add to your bookshelf.

Find out more at www.goldinggateway.com. With thanks to Lion Hudson for sending me this book to read and review.

BLOG TOUR: The Time Traveller and the Tiger by Tania Unsworth

Tigers? Time Travel? Tropical forests? Three intrepid adventurers? What more could you ask for in historical middle grade adventure?! It’s my absolute pleasure to be hosting a guest post for the final stop on the blog tour for this fantastic new book, The Time Traveller and the Tiger, written by Tania Unsworth, published by Zephr Books.

Cover Art: Helen Crawford-White

Elsie is not looking forward to the long summer holidays with her creaky, old Uncle John. But then the unimaginable happens as Time unravels and Elsie tumbles back to 1940s India to meet her Uncle John as a young boy on a tiger hunt. Can Elsie change the future by stopping him from doing what he’s already told her is a wrong he can never right? Face to face with the mightiest and most majestic predator in the jungle, Elsie is in awe of the tiger’s beauty. She’s on a mission to have the adventure of a lifetime, save the tiger and change the future.

I love tigers and I love time-travel stories so this story caught my eye immediately. I’m also always taken by 1940s India – my grandfather served with the Ghurkas in the Second World War and my mother was born in India whilst he was there. In addition, my great-grandfather was Mountbatten’s Chief Medical Adviser so I’m always fascinated by hearing stories of India. This was no exception and I thoroughly enjoyed being taken on this wonderful adventure. Alongside themes of friendship and bravery, the story doesn’t shy away from the reality of animal poaching and prejudice that existed and encourages the reader to think seriously about conservation. Elsie, John and Mandeep are a wonderful cast of characters, each with their own fears to face creating a multi-layered story of thrilling adventure. Brilliantly brought to life, the Indian forests are teeming with atmosphere and the tiger is utterly majestic, particularly as we see the world through his eyes at key moments throughout.

I’m delighted to welcome author Tania Unsworth to the blog today to share her thoughts on using description in children’s books. Welcome to the blog Tania!

The Time Traveller and the Tiger is an adventure story set in the forests of Central India, and the minute I finished the first draft, I knew I had a problem. Although the characters and plot were coming along nicely, I’d hardly described the setting at all. It felt fake – like the painted backdrop on a stage. I’d read books and looked at pictures, but I simply didn’t have enough information. So, I decided to spend a week visiting a tiger reserve in India. And that was when I ran into my second problem.

Now, I had too much information. I came back with a notebook crammed with facts and figures and breathless accounts of everything from the light of dawn to the stars at night. And because I’d fallen in love with the place, I wanted to put all this description into my book.

Usually, I’m quite sparing with description. I tend not to describe what my characters look like, for example, because I think part of the pleasure for readers comes from creating their own pictures. At the same time, some description is needed in children’s fiction. And it’s often for a different reason than in fiction for adults. Adult readers might automatically get a visual image when they read the words ‘a mountain chalet’ say, or ‘the boardroom of a large corporation’. But chances are, most children won’t have a good sense of what these places actually look like, because almost everything is new to them.

On the other hand, long descriptions are risky in children’s books. They can slow reading progress and get in the way of the story. As Joan Aitken points out in her guide The Way to Write for Children, “if you do nothing but describe…although it will be a pleasure for you, and to some of your readers, others will automatically skip all your best descriptions, and the plot will creep at a snail’s pace.”

I decided that if I wanted to include a lot of description in my book, I would have to weave it in using stealth. Through dialogue, for example. Elsie – my main character – knows nothing about the Indian forest. That was an opportunity to have my other characters, John and Mandeep, point things out and give her descriptive snippets of information. Wherever possible, I tried to convey the appearance of things through action. Instead of describing a giant spider web, I had Elsie run into one. Rather than telling the reader what termite mounds look like, I made Elsie mistake them for weirdly caped figures in the dark.

I made a rule that I wouldn’t describe anything unless the description added directly to the story. To create atmosphere, say. The grasping, knotted tendrils of a banyan tree echoing the sinister machinations of a group of trophy hunters. Or to show character motivation and personality. Light coming through the trees reminds Mandeep of a temple, revealing the depth of his love for the forest…

Of course, I didn’t always stick to that rule. Sometimes I couldn’t resist just…describing. But by making the setting less of a backdrop, and more of an active participant in the story, I hoped readers wouldn’t be slowed in their gallop to the end.

I’d love to know if you think I succeeded!”

Find out out more at www.headofzeus.com and www.taniaunsworth.com/. With thanks to Zephyr Books for sending me this book to review and inviting me to be part of the blog tour. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the tour:

BLOG TOUR: The Midnight Swan by Catherine Fisher

It’s the final stop on the blog tour for The Midnight Swan by Catherine Fisher, a fabulous finale to the Clockwork Crow series published by Firefly Press. Today, I’m sharing a guest post by Catherine focusing on writing the third book in this brilliant trilogy.

The Midnight Swan by Catherine Fisher

With an invisible girl, a parliament of owls and a pen that writes by itself, the journey to the garden of the Midnight Swan might be Seren’s most dangerous adventure yet. Can she, Tomos and the Crow complete their quest and get back where they belong?

Beautifully written, depicting a magical Victorian setting with characters we’ve come to know and love, The Midnight Swan is both gripping and heart-warming. The kind of adventure I would have gobbled up as a child (metaphorically speaking of course!), you’ll be transported back into Seren and Tomos’ world as they race against time to save their schoolteacher friend, the Clockwork Crow. In addition to facing the eerily terrifying Tylwyth Teg, Seren must contend with her worries of being sent back to the orphanage too. Perhaps being taken by the faery folk wouldn’t be so bad…?

Today on the blog, author Catherine Fisher shares insight into writing the final book of the trilogy. Welcome to the blog Catherine!


The Midnight Swan is the third in the Clockwork Crow series, about the adventures of Seren, an orphan in Victorian Wales, and her tetchy, vain friend, the Crow. The series has been huge fun to write. I have enjoyed mixing in all the things I like best- a big old house, lakes and woods, magic and folklore, strange other worlds and the silvery faery beings of Wales, The Tylwyth Teg. I wanted it to be firmly rooted in Wales. So I have used Welsh names and fragments of the language, as well as some of our folklore. The house of Plas-y-Fran is imaginary, but based on a house I know well, where I used to go to school, especially the creaky upstairs corridors and the staircase with its portraits that look down on Seren.


Each book is set in a different season, the first in winter and the second in autumn. The Midnight Swan is set at Midsummer, when the days are long and hot, and the nights short and magical. The last book is always the trickiest of the three to write. That’s because if readers enjoyed the first two, they are looking forward to this one a lot and I don’t want to disappoint them! Also the third book has to wrap the story up in a satisfying way and have everyone living happily ever after. In this book, Seren and Tomas and the Crow must find a way to break the spell that keeps him as a moth- eaten bird and find a way to restore his human shape. And Seren has to come to finally be accepted as part of the Jones family and lose her fears of being sent back to the orphanage.


Also the book has to have its own exciting adventure! So we have a Midsummer Ball, a stolen Box with a strange message on the lid, a pen that writes by itself and an invisible girl. Seren and the Crow journey to the Garden of the Midnight Swan, and on the way they meet all sorts of animals, problems and dangers. Who is following them? And can they get back in time to stop the Tylwyth Teg invading the Ball? Above all, will the Midnight Swan help them break the spell? I hope it’s a thrilling, funny and satisfying end to the series, and that you love reading it.”

Find out more at https://fireflypress.co.uk/books/midnight-swan/

With thanks to Firefly Press for sending me this book to review. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the blog tour: