New reviews: Brilliant books from Barrington Stoke

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

special delivery

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

9781781128503

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

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

9781781128701

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

9781781128978

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

9781781128749

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

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

9781781128671

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New review: Under a Dancing Star by Laura Wood

If you’re looking for a great summer read then look no further than the gorgeous new YA novel Under a Dancing Star by Laura Wood, published on 4th July by Scholastic.  A captivating coming-of-age story set in 1930s, it will sweep you into a glorious, romantic summer haze!

under a dancing star

Under a Dancing Star by Laura Wood

In 1930s England, Bea’s parents want her married off to keep the family estate alive. but she longs for adventure. A golden summer in Italy with her bohemian Uncle opens up a whole new world, which includes Ben , a handsome, infuriating artist. Sparks fly between the quick-witted pair until one night, under the stars, a challenge is set – can they put aside their teasing and have the perfect summer romance? There is only one rule – they absolutely must not fall in love.

Beatrice Langton has never quite fulfilled her parents expectations of being a dutiful daughter – in fact far from it. Her fascination with nature and scientific discovery, her desire for exploration and freedom do not sit well with her parents plans for marrying her off to a rich husband, thereby saving the crumbling family estate and ancestral home of Langton Hall.  Exasperated with Beatrice’s behaviour, which in their eyes is not becoming to a young lady of 17 years, her parents think that sending her to stay with her Uncle in Italy for the summer will drum some sense into her – but they couldn’t be more wrong! For Beatrice’s Uncle, after the death of his wife, has take up with a flamboyant artist and they live a wonderfully bohemian life, with her young cousin Hero, offering an open house to artists from all over the world who want somewhere inspirational to work.  So Beatrice, or Bea as she is called by her young cousin, suddenly has a world of wonder opened up to her, set against the backdrop of the beautiful Italian countryside.

Beautifully described throughout, Under a Dancing Star, brings to life a whirlwind summer romance and is a wonderful exploration of first love.  The stifling world of British aristocracy contrasts with the exuberant world occupied by those who can live as they choose.  The looming clouds of war and references to fascism and the approaching peril invade the summer haze at times and bring a dose of reality. The price of freedom is often loss of some kind which we see in the wonderful cast of characters Bea meets including, Ben, whose mother died and who ran away from an orphanage as a young boy. But the heart of the novel is Bea’s self-discovery, her new found feelings of love which are as transformational as the butterflies she likes to study and the realisation that she can choose her future.  Under a Dancing Star really does make the perfect summer read!

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

under a dancing star

New review: Scar by Alice Broadway

Scar by Alice Broadway

Picture a world where your every action, every deed and every significant moment in your life is tattooed on your skin forever. When you die, if you have lived a ‘good’ life your skin is removed and made into a book to be presented in a soul-weighing ceremony to your family. However if you have not lived a good life, your skin-book is burnt in a fire, condemning you in death and bringing shame on your family forever.

scarThat is the premise on which this YA trilogy is built and around which the dystopian world of Saintstone is created.  I absolutely loved the first two books in the series – Ink (review here) and Spark – so when Scar the third and final book arrived on my doorstep I couldn’t wait to read it. It doesn’t disappoint (and before I go any further – the cover art is just gorgeous on all three titles!).

With each episode, the heroine Leora has discovered more about herself, her past and indeed her future than she could ever have imagined.  From the day her father died, as secrets about him are revealed, all the doubts she has about her beliefs grow– especially in regards to those who choose not to live as marked – the Blanks – who are exiled to Featherstone.  By the third book, Leora has been through so much, heard so much truth alongside so many lies, her confusion and fear are palpable.  She has to challenge the very foundations on which her society is built even no matter the consequences. With her friends either missing or imprisoned- or perhaps not who they seem, it’s up to Leora to reveal the deception and expose the villainous leaders for who they really are. In Scar we see that Leora has not lost faith in herself and even though she faces her darkest moments, she finds hope.  A thoroughly fitting finale to a great series.

The Ink Trilogy is a brilliant exploration of how society can be split apart by differing beliefs and religion.  It explores how we share ourselves, our actions, thoughts and deeds with one another, drawing parallels with how people display everything about themselves on social media in our society. What imprint does this leave, even after we’re gone? What does this say about who we are and what we do?  People so often need something or someone to aspire to and can be so blinded by the images presented to them, they fail to see who that person really is.

The trilogy features themes of friendship, betrayal, love and family. The really clever use of beautifully written fables throughout demonstrates how tradition can hold us hostage but also help us find our way.  It also shows how the beliefs on which a society has been built can be reflected so differently depending on who is telling the story – comparing the respective beliefs of the people of Saintstone and Featherstone. In each book there are intriguing plot developments, well-written action sequences, lots of tension and some really emotive scenes, all creating a fantastic narrative.  The Ink Trilogy has everything you want in a YA series – a brilliant setting, great storytelling, compelling characters and an utterly thought-provoking narrative. 

Find out more www.alice-broadway.com. With thanks to Scholastic for sending me this book to review.

BLOG TOUR: The New Boy by Paula Rawsthorne

If you’re looking for a gripping read with a storyline that will keep you on tenterhooks, then look no further than The New Boy by Paula Rawsthorne, published last week by Scholastic.  Paula Rawsthorne is an award winning author of YA novels and passionate about enthusing teenagers to get reading. She is writer-in-residence in a secondary school for charity First Story.

With believable characters, endearing friendships and a very scary and utterly disturbing bad guy, The New Boy is a real page-turner. And today on my stop of the blog tour for this great new YA novel, you can have a sneak peek of the story!

43687004._UY865_SS865_

The New Boy by Paula Rawsthorne 

New boy jack is clever, handsome and popular. At first Zoe is immune to his charms, but she soon falls under his spell. As their romance grows, disturbing events arise – and Zoe doesn’t know who or what to believe. Until she discovers a secret so shocking it will leave her fighting for her life…

Described as a Black Mirror-esque, The New Boy is a psychological thriller exploring ina totally unique way the facades people create for themselves and how social media and our disregard for privacy can have a devastating impact on our lives. Alongside this narrative is a quite touching picture of a group of teens navigating their way through college, expressing themselves and finding their personalities.  With intriguing cover art rather brilliantly reflecting the intriguing plot, The New Boy will keep you hooked right until the totally shocking reveal!  I read this book in one sitting.  To give you a taster, here’s an exclusive extract……

new boy scans0001new boy scans0002new boy scans0003

Find out more at www.firststory.org.uk/writers-schools/paula-rawsthorne/ and follow Paula on Twitter 

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

The New Boy - Blog Tour.jpg

 

New reviews: autumn reading roundup!

IMG-3981

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.

magic ring

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.

poet x

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.

poet x

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!

sky painted gold

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!

sky painted gold

Find out more at www.lauraclarewood.com . 

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

book of the month