BLOG TOUR: Lily and the Rockets by Rebecca Stevens

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

So what happened?  

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

And that was that.

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

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

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

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Book of the Month: Mo, Lottie and the Junkers by Jennifer Killick

book of the monthMo Lottie and the Junkers is the first in a new middle grade series written by Jennifer Killick, author of the Alex Sparrow series. Published by Firefly Press, this series introduces us to an unlikely detective duo who readers will love! I absolutely love Jennifer Killick’s books – fun, accessible, original, just the right amount of thoughtfulness and really great characters – this new title is no exception and that’s why it’s Book of the Month!

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Mo, Lottie and the Junkers by Jennifer Killick

Mo Appleby’s ordered life is turned upside down when he and his mum move in with his new stepdad and stepsisters, Lottie and Sadie. The home he left behind is just across the street, and there’s something not quite right about the new occupant. Other strange new people keep popping into his life, too: a bonkers lollipop man and a boy called Jax, who seems to understand Mo better than anyone else, especially Lottie. Who are the weird new people in their town? Do they have any involvement in the disappearance of Mo’s dad many years ago? And why does the ice cream taste so good? Lottie is determined to find out exactly what’s going on, even if it makes Mo mad, and even if it leads them both into serious danger…

Mo, Lottie and the Junkers is a totally engaging and highly amusing sci-fi-come-detective story featuring a brilliant duo in Mo and Lottie, who provide hilarious narration. With tons of original and eccentric ideas throughout the narrative you can’t help but be drawn in to the mystery.  Who on earth are the junkers? Why is the lollipop man behaving so strangely? Why can’t they stop thinking about the ice-cream van? There is definitely something odd going on – and odd is something Mo knows all about. He’s a wonderfully eccentric character who likes to collects lost property and try to return it to its owners, amongst other things. Mo enjoys peace and quiet and having his own space.  His new stepsisters on the other hand are loud, nosy and drive him mad which makes for some very amusing sibling scenarios.

Against this back drop of getting to grips with a new family home and a blended family set-up, Mo and Lottie join together and do their best to find the truth and solve the mystery. They face danger with bravery and determination and each helps the other deal with their various frailties and fears.  It’s great to see the warmth and friendship they develop as the story progresses, balanced perfectly with sibling irritation! With some brilliant plot twists, you couldn’t predict what’s coming and the very gruesome discoveries they make.  Be prepared for some mad moments, nasty villains and edge of your seat action.  A great read for middle grade, Mo, Lottie and the Junkers should be on all your bookshelves!

Find out more www.jenniferkillick.com and follow Jennifer on Twitter 

With thanks to Firefly Press for sending me a proof copy of this book to review. 

 

 

New review: Pog by Padraig Kenny

Pog is the highly anticipated new middle-grade novel from the author of Tin, Pádriag Kenny. Published by Chicken House, Pog was chosen as Independent Bookseller’s Book of the Month for April. Featuring a unique magical creature and a heartfelt adventure, Pog brings to life a fantastical world and vibrant characters and is sure to achieve the same critical acclaim of the author’s first novel.

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Pog by Pádriag Kenny

David and Penny’s strange new home is surrounded by forest. It’s the childhood home of their mother, who’s recently died. But other creatures live here … magical creatures, like tiny, hairy Pog. He’s one of the First Folk, protecting the boundary between the worlds. As the children explore, they discover monsters slipping through from the place on the other side of the cellar door. Meanwhile, David is drawn into the woods by something darker, which insists there’s a way he can bring his mother back …

Totally quirky from the first page, Pog brings to life a brave new hero and a heartfelt story of loss, love and family.  Moving in to their ancestral home surrounded by an old and dark forest, Penny and David are reeling from the death of their mother, with their father on the brink of breakdown.  The atmosphere of grief is palpable and little do they realise there are dark creatures just waiting to feed on their sadness.  Thankfully Pog, a Lumpkin and member of the First Folk and protector, lives in the attic. He’s a funny little creature whose task it is to protect The Necessary, the portal to another world through which dark creatures threaten to invade. With the ever-increasing danger lurking and David being tricked into thinking he can get his mother back, Pog has his work cut out in protecting the family, capturing the creatures that have already escaped through the portal and making sure The Necessary is forever closed.  This adventure’s finale will have readers holding their breath!

Pog’s antics are often very humorous and provide a good balance to the sadness of the tale, reminding us that there is always hope. The tension builds throughout and there are some truly moving moments between the family as they all try and come to terms with their grief, which are handled very sensitively and feel very real. The forest and its creepy inhabitants are also thoroughly believable – I don’t ever want to meet a bloodworm or a greebeldy! Pog’s bravery unites both Penny and David – his story is that of a true hero and will delight all readers.

Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com  and follow the author on Twitter

With thanks to Chicken House for sending me this book to review.

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New review: Wildspark by Vashti Hardy

After the success of the brilliant Brightstorm, it is no surprise that Vashti Hardy’s latest novel Wildspark published by Scholastic, has been much anticipated. And with good reason – it’s brilliant!  Featuring all the best elements of a great children’s sci-fi fantasy novel – awe inspiring imagination, incredible characters, unexpected plot twists and a truly believable world – middle grade readers will dive into Medlock and not want to come back! Vashti Hardy is a copywriter with an MA in Creative Writing and an alumna of and mentor at the Golden Egg Academy

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Wildspark by Vashti Hardy

Prue is a young farm girl whose older brother, Francis, had a natural talent for engineering. But after his untimely death, the family have been shattered by grief. Everything changes when a stranger arrives at the farm. A new, incredible technology has been discovered in the city of Medlock, where a secretive guild of inventors have found a way to bring spirits of the dead back into the world, capturing their energy and powering animal-like machines (the Personifates). Unaware that Francis has died, the Ghost Guild wants him to join them as an apprentice. Prue poses as “Frances” and goes to Medlock to learn the craft – but she’s on a mission of her own, to bring her brother back home. And to find Francis, she needs to find a way to help the ghost machines remember the people they used to be. But if she succeeds, the whole society could fall apart.

If you lost someone you loved and thought there might be a way to get them back, would you do anything you could to try? Even if it meant going against your parents’ wishes and deceiving all those around you? That is the idea at the heart of this fantastic story – and the challenges that trying to reverse the inevitability of death causes. Bursting at the seams with thrilling adventure and a truly thought-provoking narrative, Wildspark will keep you on the edge of your seat throughout.  As the story unfolds, we discover Prue is a feisty and determined heroine, applying her engineering knowledge – and a whole lot of new skills she learns as an apprentice – to find her brother.

Against a backdrop of uncertainty about the future of Personifates and growing debate about their rights as ‘humans’, Prue must use all her ingenuity and quite a bit of deception to enable her to succeed.  Thankfully she finds support from her new found friends and fellow apprentices – Agapantha and Edwin – who is the first ever Personifate apprentice. Together they navigate the challenges of being apprentices, boarding school and meeting their training mentors. But it is clear that Prue’s desire for discovery will come at a very high price and she and her friends face all manner of dangers in order to overcome the terror that is constantly lurking.

Featuring a truly imaginative world full of breath-taking scenery, wondrous inventions and the most marvellous array of characters you could hope to meet, Wildspark is one of the best books I’ve read this year. I hope there will be a sequel!

Find out more at www.vashtihardy.com and follow Vashti on Twitter.

With thanks to Scholastic for sending me a proof copy of this book to review.

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BLOG TOUR: The Fire Maker by Guy Jones


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The Fire Maker by Guy Jones

Alex loves magic – its glamour, tricks and illusions. He’s good at it, too: he’s reached the semi-finals of a prestigious competition for young magicians. But when he stumbles into strange Mr Olmos’s back garden while running from his former best friend, Alex sees something he can’t explain: three tiny flames floating in the air. Fire magic. Real magic. Soon, Alex and Mr Olmos are swept up in a great adventure of secrets, genies and an ancient, bitter rivalry …

From the first page The Fire Maker is a fantastic, bursting-with-magic, totally engaging story! It is with great pleasure I am hosting today’s stop on the blog tour for Guy Jones’ second middle grade standalone novel, published by Chicken House. With themes of trickery, trust and ambition and an unforgettable friendship, The Fire Maker is sure to achieve the critical acclaim of his first book The Ice Garden. 

I was completely hooked on this new tale – it’s impossible not to love with the central characters in The Fire Maker. Eleven year old Alex, a magician in the making, and his strange, and somewhat unusual elderly friend Mr Olmos are a perfect combination. This story is a real page-turner with magic at it’s heart and themes of friendship and family making it totally relatable for young readers.  I’m delighted to welcome Guy Jones to the blog today with a guest post sharing his thoughts on the experience of writing his second novel:

The Sophomore Slump

Guy Jones Photo lowres“A confession. I am bad at answering questions about my books. Sometimes it’s the fault of the questioner. For example, there is no good answer to the poser ‘what kind of book is it?’ But mostly the problem lies with my own awkwardness, embarrassment and congenital inability to talk about my writing without feeling like a complete tool.

But, in the lead up to the publication of my new book, The Fire Maker, I’ve been asked the same thing over and over, by all kinds of people, and it’s got me thinking. The question is this… Was it more difficult to write the second one?

I think that’s a loaded sentence. I think it comes with an implicit knowledge of what Americans call the sophomore slump – that is, when someone’s second effort singularly fails to live up to the standards of the first. Its most famous manifestation is the ‘difficult second album’ so many bands encounter, but you can find it everywhere, from art to sport to scientific discovery. Look no further than the progression from Crocodile Dundee (Rotten Tomatoes critics rating – 87% fresh), to Crocodile Dundee 2 (11% fresh.) Ouch.

So, am I worried about meeting the same fate as Mick Dundee? Well, yes, obviously. Suddenly there are expectations to measure up to – my own, my publisher’s, and those of the readers kind enough to tell me they enjoyed The Ice Garden. But, to be honest, like many writers I am often brought up short by the thought of ‘oh my god, what if this is terrible?’ That’s not a second book thing, that’s just a thing. And, besides, there are just as many successful follow ups as there are flops. The Dawn of the Dead, The Empire Strikes Back, and Gremlins 2 (yes, really) all knock the originals into a cocked hat.

For me, the second go was easier in some ways. I could neatly sidestep, or at least stagger around, some of the traps I’d encountered in writing my first book. In fact, it was a lovely feeling to spot mistakes coming and give them a swerve (only to run into a whole bunch of exciting new ones of course). On top of that, having a timetable from my publisher was brilliant for focusing the mind. You can’t write yourself in circles when you’re on a deadline.

But the second book did bring one main difficulty, and that was in choosing an idea to start with. The first time around I could wait until the idea that had been brewing at the back of my mind was ready to go. This time around however there was time pressure, and I had to start pouring when it was still weak and watery. I had to plunge headlong into writing something and hope to god I didn’t get two-thirds of the way through only to discover it was a stinker.

So, was it more difficult to write the second one? Yes it was, in lots of ways. And no, it wasn’t in others. Every book is difficult on its own terms. But the excitement of the second book for me was in wanting to live up to expectations. And I very much hope that’s what I’ve done.”

Find out more at Chicken House  and follow Guy on Twitter @guyjones80 

With thanks to Chicken House for sending me this book to review and inviting me to be part of this blog tour. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the blog tour:

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BLOG TOUR: She Wolf by Dan Smith

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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New review: Against All Gods by Maz Evans

Shhhh…I have a secret to tell you. Until very recently I hadn’t read any of the Who Let the Gods Out series……(*gasps of shock and horror*). Apologies. You know what it’s like – you hear about a book and think ‘ooo I must read that, sounds great’ and then you look at the TBR pile and think ‘OK well when I’ve got through these’. And that’s pretty much how it’s been since the first book in the series was published.  And yes I know, once it became clear it was a great story, I kept thinking ‘must read, must read’ but it wasn’t until the season finale in the shape of book four arrived on my doorstep that I thought ‘right, now’s the time’ . So I have.  And well. I can safely say that it was definitely worth the wait and the staying-up-till-late-at-night till I’d got to the fabulous end!

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Against All Gods by Maz Evans

The battle lines are drawn. It’s Good versus Evil. But which side will Elliot Hooper choose?  The Gods are ready to fight. But with Virgo, Gorgy and all Elementals imprisoned in Tartarus, the Goods need super-General Achillles to whip them into shape. And Patricia Porshely-Plum has Home Farm. In his final adventure, can Elliot find his way home? Or will he remain…..AGAINST ALL GODS?

Elliot is in real trouble.  The grief at the loss of his mother constantly threatens to overwhelm him, he’s lost his home and his friends are imprisoned. Standing by a river of fire in the midst of Tartarus, Elliot faces an impossible choice. Retrieve the final Chaos Stone and hand all four stones to the Daemon of Death Thanatos to bring his mother back to life – or refuse and die in the knowledge he’s saved the world but not her. Meanwhile Virgo is desperately trying to escape her jail in the Underworld, with her fellow captors, the Zodiac Council making less-than-helpful suggestions. And in the Great Hall on Mount Olympus, the gods are gathering; reuniting family, friends and frenemies who do their best – sort-of – to overcome their personality clashes in order to save Elliot. Who will triumph as the plot thickens, betrayals and loyalties are revealed and Elliot has to face his worst fears – as if he hasn’t had enough to deal with?! Not wanting to spoil the story, suffice to say you can expect a stupendous finale to this series with what now must be trademark wit, brilliant characterisation and the most hilarious take on the Greek gods and other celestial beings I’ve ever come across. And not forgetting the entire Royal Family….!

Not since I read Harry Potter have I enjoyed a series as much as this. I love children’s book series. With a great children’s book series you’re safe in the knowledge that there are at least three books if not more before thinking about what to read next – which can be especially useful when you’re working with less than avid readers! I know that the teachers and parents I talk to about books also love a good series for that very reason. You get completely immersed in a whole new world, attached to the characters and totally absorbed in the plot and you’re anticipating and enjoying the thrill of when the next book is published to find out what happened next.

Perhaps I missed out on the latter (and am maybe rather relieved I didn’t have to wait too long for what happened next!), but I absolutely loved every episode of this story featuring a fairly ordinary – but let’s be honest, also extra-ordinary –  chap who already has so much on his plate when his life changes beyond all recognition.  There’s love, laughter and adventure galore and the characterisation of the Greek gods had me in fits – especially as I studied Ancient History.  I wish this book had been around then – I expect my tutor would have loved it (or maybe would have been mortified?!). I was also surprised and moved by the narrative of Elliot and his mother and her illness which added huge depth the tale and of course caused many tears.  The emotional roller coaster of the series didn’t end there with the truth about Elliot’s father revealed and the rather brilliant ‘performance’ of Call Me Graham trying to help him towards the end. Another brilliant but suitably vile character was Mrs Porshely-Plum – almost worse than the Daemon of Death himself given her absolute deceit. The term ‘just desserts’ springs to mind.  All in all Who the Let Gods Out is surely a modern classic series which I know will be enjoyed by readers for years to come.  Don’t wait like I did to read them – get started now!

Find out more at www.maz.world and www.chickenhousebooks.com

With thanks to Chicken House for sending me this book to review.