Tag Archives: Middle grade

New reviews: summer book blog!

I am very pleased to share new reviews on the blog today of some of the books I’ve read over the last few months. For younger and middle grade readers, these titles are ideal for keeping children engaged and reading over the summer holidays! Happy reading!

Madam Squeaker by Pip Jones illustrated by Paula Bowles (Age5+) is a charming tale of a little mouse with a big heart. Minetta is desperate to teach the Ruling Rats a lesson about sharing; just in time a wise old Owl appears and offers her some advice.  Lovely colourful illustrations capture Minetta Mouse’s courage as she finds her voice and shows all the animals how they can share together. A Little Gems story, this is a perfect treat for very young readers. Published by Barrington Stoke.

Lottie Loves Nature: Bird Alert by Jane Clarke illustrated by James Brown (Age 6+) is book three is the series which is part of the Summer Reading Challenge 2021- Wild World Heroes. Once again we meet nature-mad Lottie and this time she’s watching! But share has to act fast when a hatchling falls out of it’s nest and we learn all about looking after feathered friends in the garden with handy tips and checklists. Entertaining, informative, Lottie Loves Natures is a great way to encourage young reader’s interest in the natural world and reading. Published by Five Quills.

Flyntlock Bones: The Eye of Mogrod By Derek Keilty illustrated by Mark Elvins (Age 7+) – pirates ahoy! It’s adventure time again with quick-witted Flynn and friends embarking on another mystery-solving quest.  With fearsome villains and monsters to face, alongside pirate-y behaviour, be prepared for multiple thrills and entertaining pirate fun all brought to life by brilliant illustrations. Published by Scallywag Press.

Grace-Ella: Pixie Pandemonium by Sharon Marie Jones Illustrated by Adriana J Puglisi (age 7+) is the third book in this delightful series featuring young witch Grace Ella and her cat Mr Whiskins.  This time, Grace-Ella must save the school fair and stop a mischeviuous pixie named Buddy from causing chaos!  Great fun, young readers will be enchanted. Published by Firefly Press.

An Escape in Time by Sally Nicholls illustrated by Rachael Dean (Age 7+) continues the adventures of siblings Alex and Ruby as they travel through the magic mirror in their historical family home of Applecott House to another historical destination. This time they meet French Aristocrats who have escaped the Revolution, and must find a way to help them, all the while learning more about the magic mirror, their family history and themselves. Clever plots, engaging characters and fantastic historical detail bring this story to life making the reader wish they could travel in time too! Published by Nosy Crow.

Me and the Robbersons by Sirir Kolu, translated by Ruth Urbom (Age 8+) is a quirky adventure telling the tales of a bandit family, a kidnapping and lots and lots of sweets. Full of madcap mayhem, The Robbersons inadvertently give Maise the summer holiday she’s dreamed of when they kidnap her and she’s soon embroiled in their hilarious escapades! Fun and furious, this adventure will charm the socks off those looking for a Dahl-style story. Published by Little Tiger Group.

Agent Zaiba Investigates: The Haunted House by Annabelle Sami illustrated by Daniela Sosa (Age 8+) stars Zaiba, a girl who can’t wait to become the world’s greatest detective! Who is trying to scare away the new family who’ve moved into Oakwood Manor? Zaiba and her friends are determined to find the culprit in book three of this exciting, well-paced adventure series. Perfect for fans of mystery stories, with friendship and fun at the heart of each one. Published by Little Tiger Group.

We Made a Movie by Charlotte Lo (Age 8+) revisits Luna and her family on their island-home with another madcap adventure in the offing, in this thoroughly entertaining sequel. This time, Luna comes up with a brilliant plan to solve everyone’s business problems and save her home and the town of Wishnook from being turned into ‘The Las-Vegas of Scotland’! Hilarious, heart-warming and full of eccentric and endearing characters, this story is great fun! Published by Nosy Crow.

How to Save the World with a Chicken and an Egg by Emma Shevah (Age 8+) is an absolute delight of a read with characters you’d want to save the world for! With themes on friendship and acceptance we can all be inspired by and a brilliantly portrayed environmental message we can all learn from, you’ll fall in love with the first story in this series (and I’m so glad there’ll be more!). It’s also full of fascinating facts about animals and the natural world with a list of top tips about how young readers can tackle environmental issues. Published by Chicken House.

Artic Star by Tom Palmer (Age 8+) is a poignant and moving tale by an author who has proved himself again to be a master historical story-teller.  It’s 1943 and childhood friends Frank, Joseph and Stephen are about to embark on their first mission aboard a naval ship as part of an Artic Convoy sailing to Russia delivering supplies to the Soviets. You can almost taste the seawater and feel the freezing cold as they plummet into danger and face threats all around. This story won’t fail to move you and shines a light on the brave and courageous naval forces that helped the Allies win the war. Published by Barrington Stoke.

The Secret Detectives by Ella Risbridger (Age 8+) tells the story of orphan Isobel travelling from her home in India to a remote Uncle in England.  Little does she realise life is going to take some unexpected turns as she witnesses a murder, grapples with etiquette and expectations and makes some new friends.  On board ship adventure abounds as Isobel and her fellow would-be detectives use all their deductive powers to find the culprit. Plenty of historical detail, well-drawn characters and an engaging plot will keep you hooked on every page! Published by Nosy Crow.

With thanks to the publishers for sending me these books to review – they’ll all be going to a local school as part of the Book Buddy scheme!

GUEST POST: Writing sequels by Jennifer Killick, author of Crater Lake: Evolution and more!

Jennifer Killick has fast become one of my favourite children’s authors in recent years with the Alex Sparrow series and Mo, Lottie and the Junkers high on my list of must-have reads on the book shelf. Great stories, lots of humour, believable characters and heart-warming friendships are at the heart of her books.

With the success of Jennifer’s more recent series, Crater Lake, published by Firefly Press and centred on the sinister, sci-fi adventures surrounding a group of school friends, it’s clear to see her books becoming a staple for many middle-grade readers (and lots of grown ups too!). The Crater Lake stories have all the hallmarks of Jennifer’s previous titles – great friendships, engaging characters, fantastic dialogue and the added element of being super-creepy! Today, Jennifer shares her thoughts on writing the Crater Lake sequel, Crater Lake: Evolution.

Welcome to the blog Jennifer!

“Here’s the sequel situation: Your book did well: hooray! Your publisher has commissioned a sequel: double hooray! A sequel is an opportunity to continue a story you love, full of characters you already know and are incredibly attached to. All you have to do is pick up where you left off – that’s easy, right? RIGHT?

I wrote Crater Lake as a stand-alone book. I wanted it to be a compact, neatly-tied parcel of satisfaction. There was no way I was going to ruin it by writing a sequel. But people were keen for a second book, and an excellent little idea just plopped itself down in front of me. So I agreed, and then I panicked.

One of the things that worked best in Crater Lake was the setting – keeping everything confined to one activity centre for the duration of a residential trip. It was simple and recognisable,  but something that I felt would become predictable and unbelievable if I used it again. A new setting was needed.

The characters in Crater Lake were the perfect group – a mix of personalities and experiences all coming together to form a tight-knit team. But in a second story they would need to continue to learn and grow. I had to rethink the characters.

The alien threat in Crater Lake was full of menace – turning the characters’ best friends and teachers into the enemy made their actions far more sinister and disturbing. How could I raise the threat level even higher? I needed something new.

After much stressing and crying and knowing that there was no way I was going to pull off a second book, I decided that the best way to approach my sequel was to almost forget it was a sequel. I wrote Crater Lake as if it would be my last book, as if it existed on its own in solitary completeness. I wrote Evolution in the same way. I took those characters that I loved so well, and thought about how they would naturally change in their transition to secondary school. I thought about the things in their lives that I hadn’t explored: their homes and their families. I imagined how an intelligent alien enemy might learn and grow after its failed attempt at destroying the human race. I played out scenes in my mind in the middle of the night – so creepy that I couldn’t get back to sleep. And then I sat down and wrote that story like it would be my last.”

Find out more about Jennifer and her books at https://www.jenniferkillick.com/. With thanks to Jennifer and Firefly Press for sharing this guest post.

GUEST POST: The Life and Time of Lonny Quicke by Kirsty Applebaum

The Life and Time of Lonny Quicke by Kirsty Applebaum

What if you could save lives? What if, with just the touch of your hand, you could stop an animal, or even a person, dying? You’d do it, wouldn’t you? But what if it meant you got older each time? Older and older….until you had no time left yourself. Would you do it then?

When this book came through the post, I knew instantly I would love it. Sometimes, a story just captures a little space in your imagination, before you’ve even read it. Lonny Quicke did that for me. Wonderfully written, authentic and engaging characters, and a compelling plot, I read The Life and Time of Lonny Quicke by Kirsty Applebaum, in one sitting.

At the heart of the story is Lonny, an ordinary boy with the extra-ordinary power of a lifeling. A power which enables him to heal or give life to the dying – at a great cost to himself. Such are the risks, Lonny and his family live in the forest, away from the town of Farstoke, to keep him safe – can you imagine what would happen if people knew? But of course, it’s hard to keep things hidden for long, especially when there are family to take care of and mouths to feed – and an extraordinary boy who longs to live an ordinary life. A narrative rich with folklore and stories, life or death choices will take on new meaning when you read this book and you’ll find yourself wondering, what would you do?

I am so pleased to welcome author Kirsty to the blog today, with a wonderful guest post about the songs behind the story (yes, that’s right – songs – you’ll have to read the book now!). Welcome to the blog Kirsty!

Songs in The Life and Time of Lonny Quicke

The Life and Time of Lonny Quicke tells the story of a twelve-year-old boy who is a lifeling, able to restore life to dying creatures with just the touch of his hand. Halfway through the story Lonny finds himself at street festival, surrounded by songs he knows but doesn’t remember learning and ‘stories that are nearly the same as the ones I’ve known forever.’ I incorporated four songs into the book at this point, to help build the festival atmosphere:

A Frog he would a-Wooing Go – A traditional folk song telling the story of a courting frog, understood to be satirising the highly political royal courtships of the 16th century.

My Grandfather’s Clock – Written in 1876 by Henry Clay Work, this song tells the story of an old man and his longcase clock. It’s said to be the source of the term ‘grandfather clock’, and the music sets a steady tick, tock pace throughout.

Oranges and Lemons – Each line of this traditional nursery rhyme represents the distinctive chime of a particular set of London church bells, except for the last few lines which depict a grisly death.

Green Grow the Rushes, Oh! – A folk song of unknown origins which has an intriguing mix of biblical, astronomical and possibly even pagan references.

The thing I find most interesting about these songs is that, as I wrote the book, they just appeared in my head, asking to be included. And when I examined them I realised they were ideal. Mr Frog, for example, disobeys a parent and goes out when he’s been told not to – just like Lonny. My Grandfather’s Clock and Oranges and Lemons have clear themes of time, life and death – all key themes in The Life and Time of Lonny Quicke. And Green Grow the Rushes, Oh! contains the line ‘Two! Two! The lily-white boys, all dressed up in green hi-ho!’ – which could easily be a description of Lonny and his brother at the festival. These songs, then, were lyrically perfect – but they also seemed to embody the essence of the book. With the exception of My Grandfather’s Clock, they all manifest themselves in many different versions, changing through time and place. This is exactly what I wanted to explore in Lonny Quicke about stories – that they change, depending on who is telling them and what message that particular storyteller is trying to get across. On top of that, all four songs have a timeless, folkloric quality. It’s as if they’ve been around forever. Again, this is exactly what I wanted to achieve with my lifeling folklore in The Life and Time of Lonny Quicke.

So the words and tunes that filled my childhood world – all the songs I’d been immersed in as I grew up – have become so much part of me that the right ones just rose out of my subconscious when I needed them. And these four songs of time and life, which I’ve always known but don’t remember learning, are perfect.”

Find out more at www.nosycrow.com. With thanks to Nosy Crow for sending me this book to review and to Kirsty Applebaum for contributing this guest post.

BLOG TOUR: Skyborn by Sinead O’Hart

Today is my stop on the blog tour for a wonderful new middle-grade novel from author Sinead O’Hart, Skyborn published by Little Tiger. A prequel to the much-loved Eye of the North, (read my review of this title here) fans will be delighted to discover Thing’s origin story, in a marvellous and richly drawn adventure set in a Circus. Author Sinead will be sharing insight into the inspiration for Skyborn with a guest post all about her love of the circus!

Skyborn by Sinead O’Hart

The circus has seen better days, but for Bastjan it’s home. He will do anything he can to save it, even if it means participating in a death-defying new act. But when that fails to draw in the crowds, the ringmaster makes a deal with a mysterious man by the name of Dr Bauer. In exchange for his help, Bauer wants a box that belonged to Bastjan’s mother and came from her birthplace – the faraway island of Melita. Bastjan is desperate to keep his only memento of his mother out of Bauer’s hands. And as he uncovers more about the strange objects contained within, he realizes it’s not only the circus that’s in terrible danger…

There is something magical about the circus and Skyborn effortlessly brings this to life, with all it’s wonder and excitement – as well as the darker and more dangerous side. A fantastic cast of characters who you care about, with Bastjan and runaway Alice, who has a significant birth mark on her face, at the heart of the tale. It’s a sprawling adventure which takes you from the sawdust ringside seats up to the trapeze and on to the dizzy heights of air ships and the strange island of Melita. There’s action aplenty, as Bastjan tries to find the truth about his mother, and escape the clutches of his nasty step-father, Ringmaster Quinn. Helped by the eccentric stars of the circus especially his guardian, strong man Crake, Bastjan and Alice face their worst fears as they uncover the mysteries of the box. With multiple themes woven into the narrative, Skyborn is a great book to escape into and I’m sure readers will be lining up to join this circus adventure!

I’m delighted to welcome author Sinead O’Hart to the blog with a guest post sharing the inspiration for Skyborn. Welcome to the blog Sinead!

“I have always loved the circus. When I was a little girl, the circus would come every year to the town I lived in, and my parents always made sure my brother and I had front-row seats (or as close to front-row as could be managed). The ringmaster of the circus was a lady, a beautiful lady, with long dark hair that fell in a cascade all the way down her back, and it was thrilling to watch it flying around her head in a thick braid as she strode around the ring. I admired her red and gold jacket, her riding trousers, her shiny boots, and her gleaming top hat – and that was before a single act had performed! I looked forward to the circus every year, but eventually, as all children do, we grew too old to want to go to the circus with our parents any more, and so they stopped buying our front-row tickets, and we busied ourselves with other things instead.

But the magic of those performances stayed with me. I can still recall so clearly the smell of the big top, the tang of animal dung and straw, the odour of popcorn and toffee, the clamour of the crowd beneath the canvas, the heat (because beneath a big top full of people, it gets hot), and the excitement of waiting for the show to start. I drew on all of this when I wrote my newest book, Skyborn, which is partly set in a circus. The big top, and the performers’ wagons, and their lives as travelling performers, take up about half the book. Much of it is imagined, but I hope I paid a good tribute to the wonder I felt as a little girl whenever that red-and-white striped tent would rise in a field at the edge of my town, and the performers would drive up and down the street in their brightly coloured trucks, beeping their horns and waving, and calling us to ‘come and see the show!’

However, as much as I love circuses, some aspects of them are not as magical now as they once were. One of the themes in Skyborn is captivity, and the injustice of keeping animals in cramped conditions. At the beginning of the book we meet the elephant, Mammoth, who lives in a cage barely big enough to hold him, and Bastjan – our main character – reflects on how cruel this seems. Skyborn is about giving characters back their freedom (or most of them, at least – you’ll have to read the book to find out more); it’s about the wrongness of keeping wild things locked up, whether they’re animals or something else, something like the character of Dawara in my book. Of course, modern circuses don’t use wild animals in their acts any longer, and that is something to be welcomed. There’s still plenty of magic to be found beneath the big top without the need for animal acts – and there’s plenty of magic at the heart of circus stories, too.

So, without further ado, take your front-row seats! The Skyborn Boy is ready to fly, and the performance is about to begin…”

With thanks to Little Tiger for inviting me to participate in this blog tour. Check out the rest of the blog tour:

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: