New reviews: autumn reading roundup!

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I will admit that finding time to write book reviews is proving tricky of late. I definitely can read more than I have time to sit down at my desk and write! Like many who blog about books, my good intentions to catch-up with review-writing get interrupted by all manner of things – work, kids, family, domestic chores, even the cat.  So here goes with a catch-up of books I’ve enjoyed over the last few weeks (and which are now winging their way to my #bookbuddy school for lots of children to enjoy)!

ClownfishClownfish by Alan Durant is a quirky tale of a boy, Dak, whose father dies and unbelievably comes back to life – in the body of a clownfish.  Dak and his dad often visited the local aquarium together and when Dak goes there to escape his grief-stricken home, he is amazed to hear the voice of his dad coming from one of the fish tanks.  As Dak navigates the days following the fallout of his father’s death, especially his mother’s grief, he takes comfort in his secret knowing he can always talk to his Dad at the aquarium.  However the lines between what is real and Dak’s desire to believe his father is still alive become blurred and Dak ultimately will have to face the truth. Clownfish is a funny and moving portrayal of grief and acceptance.  Well-paced, it sensitively deals with the very painful theme of losing a parent, alongside a funny narrative of making new friends and a campaign to save the aquarium from closure. Published by Walker Books this month, Clownfish is a Alan Durant’s 100th book and well worth reading.

boy underwaterBoy Underwater by Adam Baron and illustrated by Benji Davies is a debut novel and also deals with themes of grief and bereavement.  Told from the viewpoint of Cymbeline Igloo (what a fabulous name!) it begins with an innocent desire to learn to swim. So begins a series of events that spark a breakdown in Cymbeline’s mother’s mental health, a desire to find out the truth about his father who died and the discovery of a painful secret.  Along the way, Cymbeline loses friends, finds new ones and has to face the fact that his family are not what he thought they were.  Boy Underwater is a moving story, told with real humour and insightful observations about family and friendship.  The wide cast of characters generate real empathy and reflect the realities of choice and consequence, demonstrating how grief can cause even the best intentions to go awry.  It’s also just a great story about growing up. A really impressive middle-grade debut published by HarperCollinsBoy Underwater made me laugh and cry at the same time.

firebirdFirebird by Elizabeth Wein is a young adult novella centred on the Soviet women pilots of the Second World War. An engaging read, with a fearless heroine Nastia who is the daughter of revolutionaries, Firebird brings new insight into what wartime Russia was like.  Nastia and her comrades must not only battle the prejudice against women wanting to fight in wartime but also the attacks of the invading German army.  She perseveres and with the help of her fierce female instructor, The Chief, she soon finds herself on the frontline.  The story cleverly weaves in Russia’s most famous family, the Romanovs and shows just how far people will go to protect their Motherland.  Firebird is published by Barrington Stoke, and is a very accessible read. With a fast-paced plot, I read this in one sitting discovering an area of World War Two history I knew nothing about.

Something else I knew nothing about is a fantastic author called Bianca Pitzorno, known as Italy’s answer to Roald Dahl!  Bianca has won the Andersen Award six times, been nominated twice for the Hans Christian Andersen Award and has won several more children’s literature awards in Italy.  So it was with great pleasure I read two of her titles, recently published by Catnip and both translated by Laura Watkinson.

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Lavinia and the Magic Ring – which is brilliantly illustrated by none other than Quentin Blake – is the tale of a young orphan Lavinia who, in reward for her kindness, is bestowed with a magical ring that can turn anything and everything into poo! It may not sound like the best power in the world, but Lavinia works out how to use it to find herself a home in a very posh hotel, beautiful food to eat and new clothes to wear.  Magic indeed! However, like many who find themselves in possession of great power, Lavinia starts to get a little bit too clever and when she inadvertently turns herself into poo, she quickly learns her lesson and remembers not to be selfish.  As you can imagine, with poo involved there are some hilarious moments that will have young readers chuckling and holding their noses! Accompanied by Quentin Blake’s magical illustrations,  Lavinia and the Magic Ring is a fun and feisty modern day fairytale with a positive message for all who read it.

littlest witchThe Littlest Witch is a charming tale of a mad-cap family and their discovery that the youngest daughter, Sybilla, is in fact a witch.  Which wouldn’t be a problem given the chaos of their family life, were it not for the witch-hunting Alfonso who needs to marry a witch in order to claim his huge inheritance.  A variety of fantastic characters feature including Sybilla’s six sisters, the nanny Diomira and her heroic nephew Zac, a cat called Mephisto and Shut-Up the parrot to name a few! Alfonso’s ambitions get the better of him and he finally kidnaps baby Sybilla, trapping her in basement.  But he forgets she is a witch and he also doesn’t count on her unconventional family! I won’t spoil the plot, but suffice it to say,  Alfonso gets his just desserts and there is a happy ending in store for all!  Lively illustrations by Mark Beech bring all the adventure to life. The Littlest Witch is everything a good story should be; full of character, funny and entertaining with a little bit of chaos thrown in!

With thanks to Walker Books, HarperCollins, Barrington Stoke and Catnip for sending me these books to review!

New review: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

The Poet X has been on my TBR shelf for some time – I should have read it straightaway.  In a word it is brilliant. The author Elizabeth Acevedo was born and raised in New York City and her poetry is infused with Dominican bolero and her beloved city’s tough grit. With over twelve years of performance experience, she has delivered talks, won multiple poetry slam awards and featured in many international publications.  This is her debut novel and it will have you holding your breath, crying and cheering all at the same time. A really moving and uplifting read.

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The Poet X By Elizabeth Acevedo

Xiomara has always kept her words to herself. When it comes to standing her ground in her Harlem neighbourhood, she lets her fists and her fierceness do the talking. But Xiomara has secrets – her feelings for a boy in her bio class, and the notebook full of poems that she keeps under her bed. And a slam poetry club that will pull those secrets into the spotlight. Because in spite of a world that might not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to stay silent.

Xiomara Batista has not had the easiest childhood. Born late to Catholic parents who thought they couldn’t have children, she and her twin brother are seen as gifts from God and as such her mother remains fervently thankful to this day.  Attending daily mass, regular confession and preparing for confirmation are all part of the norm for Xiomara. As an attractive young woman, Xiomara receives a lot of unwanted attention and her mother, Mami, persistently reminds her of the sin this can lead to.  Xiomara’s father is not around and when he is, he doesn’t have much to say. Whilst her very intelligent brother attends a private school, Xiomara goes to the local Harlem high school, where drug abuse and gang culture are standard. She takes refuge in words – she may fight with her fists but the real battles with herself, her uncertainties about her faith, her parents and her feelings about a forbidden romance take place on the pages of her precious notebook.  With her twin struggling with his own secrets and her best friend too devoutly religious to help, Xiomara finally sees her words for the way out they truly are – especially when a new English teacher invites her to a Spoken Word Poetry Club.

The 357 pages of this book flew by and short of life’s necessities interrupting I read it in one go. Written entirely in verse, I found myself clutching it and rushing for my train so I could hurry up and get back into Xiomara’s world.  She is one of the most absorbing characters I’ve ever read – her voice is loud and clear and her words thought-provoking, powerful, tender, true.  A coming-of-age story like no other, you are completely drawn into Xiomara’s thoughts; you can feel her pain, her fears, her hopes, her joy at discovering and recognising the pangs of first love. With each passing day, Xiomara’s relationships with those around her become more complicated. Poetry enables her to truly express herself and find the determination to explore who she really is whilst dealing with the oppression of those who are supposed to love her the most, but show it the least. I would have quite happily screamed at her mother for being so ridiculously lacking in love, so blinded is she by her faith.  This story is not without complexity but it touches on so many things a teenager trying to find their identity might feel (in fact so many things we all sometimes feel) and each verse generates real emotion. Acceptance, kindness, home, laughter, friendship, faith, teaching, discipline, passion, self-belief; love has many faces and this story powerfully explores them all. The Poet X is absolutely one of the best YA books I’ve read – an empowering story, it’s no surprise it was a New York Times bestseller.  Everyone should read it.

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Find out more at www.acevedowrites.com.

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

Book of the Month: A Sky Painted Gold by Laura Wood

book of the monthWhen this book arrived through the letterbox on a cold, damp, dreary morning some months ago it was like the promise of summer lit up the room! A Sky Painted Gold by Laura Wood, published by Scholastic is the perfect summer read for Book of the Month. Laura Wood is the winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing and is the author of four novels in the middles grade Poppy Pym series.  This is her debut YA novel and what a fabulous way to start writing for teens!

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Gorgeous inside and out, A Sky Painted Gold brings to life a decadent, glorious time of innocence, coming of age and finding love. Centred on seventeen-year-old Lou, the story begins with a discarded apple, a beautiful empty old house, new arrivals and innocent hopes for adventure! Lou is an aspiring writer with a large family. Her eldest soon-to-be-married sister is her confidante and best friend, but change is on its way. With the arrival of the owners of the empty house, the famous Cardew family, Louisa takes her first invited steps, not just across to the old house, but into the discovery of romance and the glittering world of the wealthy. Celebrations and cocktails galore and glamorous new acquaintances all conspire to turn Lou’s head – and her heart. Who wouldn’t fall in love with stunning surroundings, fabulous parties and beautiful people? But this story wouldn’t be as thrilling without the dark secrets it holds and family ties that threaten to overwhelm. The more Lou becomes involved in this world of glamour that so entices her, the harder these secrets are to ignore.

I absolutely loved this story. Beautifully described, I was drawn to the world created with its heady summer celebrations, the hint of love and the potential heartbreak. With a wonderful cast of characters and a story line that spans an array of relationships, you felt every moment and every dance! I loved Lou’s relationship with her family; her desire to be a writer and the love at the heart of this novel. Echoes of Gatsby run throughout and the picture created of summertime in the 1920s is gorgeous. The perfect summer read, A Sky Painted Gold will light up your bookshelf!

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Find out more at www.lauraclarewood.com . 

Thank you to Scholastic for sending me a proof copy of this book to review.

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New reviews: a big blog catch-up

Books julyIt’s been a quiet time on the blog recently due to an enforced period of rest after unexpected illness.  At times I didn’t even have the energy to read a book let alone write a review;  I must have been ill!  Thankfully I’m on the mend and have since been reading lots of books – the perfect distraction, entertainment and comforting pastime when you’re in recovery! I’ve made a small dent in my TBR pile, caught up with Tom Fletcher’s Book Club, and discovered some great new books.

So in no particular order here’s a snapshot of what I’ve read over the last few weeks (more to come in future posts). Middle grade to YA, these six books would be great to add to your summer reading list!

Walls

Walls by Emma Fischel

Meet Ned Harrison Arkle-Smith – he’s grumpy, bossy, and exasperating, but you can’t help liking him. Oh, and he’s just discovered he can walk through walls . . . Ned’s world is collapsing. His parents have split up, his best friend is behaving strangely, he has an awful new neighbour, and Snapper is making his life a misery. In fact NOBODY is behaving the way Ned wants.  And then there’s the wall. Right down the middle of Ivy Lodge and cutting up Ned’s life. A big brick reminder of all that’s going wrong in his life. Until, that is, the night when Ned discovers he has an astonishing new skill . .

Walls is a funny and original story with a theme that will be familiar to many, and an unforgettable hero who quite often gets it wrong.   Ned can’t cope with his parents divorce and his behaviour starts to impact on everything he does – but he can’t see that he’s in the wrong. And when he’s presented with the ‘gift’ of being able to walk through walls try as he might to use his new power for good, Ned just can’t help himself.  Exasperating everyone around him, it takes a dangerous situation for Ned to accept the things he can’t change and find the real hero inside himself.  Full of humour and heart, Walls is a great middle-grade read, generating huge empathy with an enjoyable cast of supporting characters. A well-paced narrative with lots of humour will keep you hooked and despite his troubles, you can’t help but root for Ned to find his way. A thoroughly enjoyable read.

With thanks to Oxford University Press for a proof copy of this book. Find out more at www.emmafischel.com.

 

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Hope by Rhian Ivory

It’s the summer between school and sixth-from. When Hope doesn’t get into drama college and her friends do, her plans fall apart.  She’s struggling with anger, grief for her father and a sense that her own body is against her. A chance meeting on a ferry gives her someone to talk to. But is she brave enough to ask for help? Can she find her plan B?

This is a great YA story with so much for readers to relate to. How many times have you made plans for your life only to find life itself has other ideas? It’s a really hard lesson to learn and Hope is in the throes of this dealing with the death of her father and an unsuccessful drama school audition.  She’s also coping with undiagnosed PMDD, a horrible condition girls suffer from causing extreme mood swings, irritability, depression and other symptoms the week before menstruation. The fallout of all these events impacts on her relationships, particularly with her best friend, Callie.

Ironically given her name, Hope feels anything but, and you can feel the emotional turmoil throughout the narrative. A new friend gives her an outlet for her frustration, but even this causes problems. Hope is forced to face her troubles whilst working with her mother at the hospital as part of the Singing Medicine team and the arrival of her Italian grandfather gives her renewed optimism. I loved the portrayal of their relationship showing how we all need someone to believe in us. Hope finds her voice in more ways than one– to seek help with her condition and to secure a new path for herself. This is an important novel, shining a light on a horrible health issue and showing that life doesn’t always go the way you want, but there is indeed always hope.

With thanks to Firefly Press for sending me this book to review. Follow Rhian on twitter: @Rhian_Ivory

 

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The Weight of A Thousand Feathers by Brian Conaghan

Bobby Seed has questions. What’s another word for ‘thesaurus’? How can I tell Bel I want her as my girl friend, not my girlfriend? How much pain is Mum in today? Has she taken her pills? And sometimes, secretly, why us? Bobby’s little brother Danny has questions too. Will Bobby let him have Rice Krispies for dinner? And can he stay up late on the computer? And why won’t Mum’s stupid illness just GO AWAY? But it’s Mum’s question for Bobby that could turn everything on its head. It’s the Big One. The Unthinkable One.  If Bobby agrees, he won’t just be soothing her pain. He’ll be helping to end it. Would he? Could he?

Described as a “bold questioning exploration of the lengths we’ll go to for the people we love” this is a brilliantly titled and equally brilliantly written novel.  Bobby is not your average teen; he doesn’t life the live he wants to live, he lives the life he has to live. But he does so with grit and determination, fiercely protective of the ones he loves.  His brother has learning needs and his mother spends most of her days in bed suffering from chronic multiple sclerosis.  Bobby’s relationship with both is beautifully portrayed showing the constant struggle between wanting to do the right thing and wanting not to have to be responsible all the time.  Bobby’s only outlet is his poetry; a hidden pleasure or perhaps a necessity through which he can express his feelings. His only help is his best friend Bel, a welcome carer-come-takeaway-night-buddy.  That is until he starts attending a support group, where he meets an array of young people in a similar situation to himself including the handsome and mysterious Lou.  The story unfolds with a narrative full of heart-rending emotion, touches of humour throughout, teen angst, romance and inevitably grief.  The reality described is harsh but truthful and the empathy you feel for Bobby in this impossible situation is overwhelming. Impossible questions don’t have possible answers and this gripping novel explores this theme in a way that stays with you long after the final page.

With thanks to Bloomsbury for sending me this book to review. Follow Brian on twitter: @BrianConaghan

Heart-of-Resistance

The Heart of Resistance by Sarah Tate

When a bomb destroys her London home, Agnes is left without parents or a guardian. But she can’t bear to live in a children’s home in the country. She needs to find her grandparents in France – a France occupied by the Nazis. Smuggled across the Channel, by chance she meets a Resistance group whose leader promises to help her in her quest. In turn, Agnes’s quick thinking saves both their skins. Left in the care of shepherds in the mountains, Agnes’s adventure is only just beginning – can she make it through to the end?

A wartime novel told with heart and full of adventure The Heart of Resistance weaves a tale of struggling against the odds to find the ones you love. Agnes has already suffered the loss of her parents and has grown up in the care of her maternal grandmother, who is killed during a bombing raid on London. Determined not to end up in an orphanage Agnes does the unthinkable and heads into the heart of occupied France to find her paternal grandparents.  Using skills she learnt playing on the blitzed streets of London, Agnes’ survival instincts kick in. Facing all manner of threats from hunger and starvation to German soldiers, she finds herself helping the resistance who in return promise to see her safely to the South of France. There is something mysterious in the face of the resistance leader, but Agnes can only think of getting to her family.  Just when she thinks she is safe, Agnes is captured and has to use all her wits to escape.  An exciting suspense-filled plot, The Heart of Resistance brings to life the danger of wartime, life in occupied France and the constant threat faced by all. It would make a great middle-grade historical classroom read.

With thanks to Ragged Bears for sending me this book to review.

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Alex Sparrow and the Furry Fury By Jennifer Killick

Catching the school’s runaway guinea pigs is not giving Alex job satisfaction, but how can he find a bigger test for his and Jess’s awkward superpowers? Jess is more worried about the bullied new boy, whose Mum runs the animal sanctuary. She volunteers at the sanctuary, but soon realises that something is very wrong; the animals are terrified. People report strange events: things missing, property destroyed, and the local squirrels have turned mean. The police have no suspects. It looks more and more like a job for Agent Alex…

Alex Sparrow is back and from the first page you’ll have a smile on your face!  Alex’s superhero antics haven’t abated and Jess still finds them totally exasperating.  However, bickering aside, they make a great duo and very quickly they find themselves in the midst of another bizarre adventure. This time they’re doing battle with a very mysterious villain, ninja squirrels and really quite frightening foxes to name a few.  Alex is convinced it’s something to do with the new boy from the animal sanctuary, Jess has fallen for the animal sanctuary assistant much to Alex’s disgust, but they both agree that there is definitely an unnatural force playing havoc with local wildlife.  It’s up to them to get to the bottom of things using their slightly unusual superpowers and of course the talents of Bob the goldfish to help. Alex’s determination increases when he realises his precious hedgehog Mr Prickles, a sanctuary resident, is in danger. Using all their ingenuity, from ear farts to animal conversations, Alex and Jess prove their superhero worth by the bucket load. Quirky characters, bags of humour and some excellent plot twists make this fantastic middle-grade adventure spring off the page.  You won’t fail to enjoy it!

With thanks to Firefly Press for sending me this book to review. Find out more at www.jenniferkillick.com.

 

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It’s a Wrap (Waiting for Callback #3) by Perdita & Honor Cargill

It’s a BIG year for Elektra. She’s wrapped her first feature film Raw (even if her character was unexpectedly killed off half-way through filming) and hosted – against the odds – the party of the year (well, until her mum turned up and kicked everyone out) so, things are definitely moving in the right direction. BUT she’s still not sure what’s going on with Archie, her bff Moss’s love life is in shreds and GCSEs are looming. And the COUNTDOWN to Raw’s release is TERRIFYING, not least because it turns out there’s more to promoting a movie than messing around on Insta… #ComingSoon, #ElektraExposed #RawTerror.  Elektra’s road to acting stardom is as rocky as ever…

It’s the night of Elektra’s 16th birthday party, immediately bringing to life the perils of being sweet sixteen – from romance complications to parents about to arrive home early!  So begins the story, which is brimming with all those teen dilemmas but of course the added issue of being a little bit famous. Elektra is possibly on the brink of super stardom but there could be a major problem with her first feature film, Raw.  Enter the PR gurus to ensure the film’s success, who do their best to train Elektra in how to create a social media profile, with hilarious and cringe-worthy results.

To be honest, trying to sum up this book in a short paragraph is tricky – there’s so much in it!  Great characters, believable relationships, slightly-mad-but-always-there family, love triangles and a cute and clever dog. It’s a great commentary on today’s improbable and fickle world of fame and fortune, very brilliantly demonstrating that it’s family and friends that matter along with lots of laughs.  Elektra makes a truly likeable heroine and shows real grit and determination in the face of social media backlash.  Add to this the glamour of the movies, some fabulously funny lines and a message of being true to yourself, It’s a Wrap will leave a smile on your face.

There are also some fantastic school resources to go with this book prompting discussion of the three titles in this series.  With book club questions, multiple choice quizzes, creative writing ideas and whole host of writing tips, the Waiting for Callback series is a fantastic package for encouraging teens readers to get creative.

 

With thanks to Perdita and Honor Cargill for sending me this book to review Find out more at www.waitingforcallback.com.

 

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BLOG TOUR! How to Write a Love Story by Katy Cannon

how to write a love story I’m a hopeless romantic so clearly when I heard about this book I wanted to read it!  How to Write a Love Story by young adult author Katy Cannon, tells the story of Tilly Frost, who has grown up reading her grandmother’s bestselling romance novels. When her grandmother is taken ill, Tilly has to finish her latest work and so begins a brand new chapter in her life, that will bring new meaning to the words ‘love story’.  Written with warmth, humour and a great deal of insight into teenage heartaches, How to Write a Love Story is bound to delight its readers.

I’m delighted to be hosting this stop on the blog tour to celebrate the publication of How to Write a Love Story and to welcome Katy Cannon to the blog. Katy has written several successful YA novels including Love, Lies and Lemon Pies which has been published in eight languages.

Today Katy has written a very special guest post for me to share.  What would you say to your sixteen year old self?  The benefit of hindsight can be hugely revealing and I’m very honoured to share this personal letter written by Katy to her sixteen year old self.

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New reviews: five great reads!

I’ve read some fantastic books over the last few weeks.  Here are my highlights of brilliant middle grade and YA reads which are available now, written by brilliant authors who know just how to get children and young people reading whether through fascinating facts, humour and adventure, teen romance or important issues.

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The Secret Diary of Thomas Snoop Tudor Boy Spy by Philip Ardagh and illustrated by Jamie Littler

Thomas Snoop is in training to become a spy. Entrusted with a top secret mission by the mysterious Lord Severn, right-hand man to the Tudor king, Thomas must travel to the magnificent Goldenhilt Hall – in the guise of a servant – in order to uncover traitors plotting against the crown. It will take all Thomas’s wits and cunning to uncover the traitors lurking at Goldenhilt Hall – and he must do so without being discovered himself…

I’ve read and enjoyed the previous books in this series and this new book doesn’t disappoint. With Philip Ardagh’s trademark wit and hilarity, we discover all about Tudor times through the eyes of Thomas Snoop and his diary entries. Mystery abounds as Thomas attempts to complete his mission and uncover the dastardly treacherous villains who threaten to destroy English freedom! I love Jamie Littler’s illustrating style, complimenting the narrative with humorous takes on the larger than life characters.  Historical facts appear throughout the story, making Tudor Boy Spy informative and fun! This great series introduces history in an accessible way, encouraging young readers to think what life might have been like growing up in a different time period – with the added bonus of being really funny!

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Children’s Book Award BLOG TOUR: I Have No Secrets by Penny Joelson

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I am hugely excited to be participating in the Children’s Book Award official blog tour in the books for older readers category.  It’s the only national book award to be voted for entirely by children from start to finish, so I can imagine how wonderful it must feel as an author to be nominated by the readers. Today I am sharing I Have No Secrets by Penny Joelson, a London based author who says:Penny Joelson “I was delighted when I heard that ‘I Have No Secrets’ had made the top ten for this award – one of three books in the older children category. It is particularly special as I know it is an award where the voting is entirely by children and young people themselves. I enjoyed writing this book so much and it is wonderful to think about so many young people reading it now.  I can only say – I am utterly thrilled!”

I Have No Secrets, published by Electric Monkey features fourteen year old Jemma, who has severe cerebral palsy. Unable to communicate or move, she relies on her family and carer for everything. She has a sharp brain and inquisitive nature, and knows all sorts of things about everyone. But when she is confronted with a terrible secret, she is utterly powerless to do anything. Though that might be about to change…

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