Young Adult Reviews

Review: I Am Thunder by Muhammad Khan




‘Do you wish to become a true Muslim?’ he said to me.

‘But I am -‘

‘I’m not talking about only visiting the mosque at Eid, or praying to Allah as if he were Santa,’ he said shaking his head. ‘I mean true Islam, without addition or subtraction. That which was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.’

(I Am Thunder by Muhammad Khan. P142. *Quotation taken from advance copy.) 


Muzna Saleem’s parents will be proud of anything she chooses to be when she grows up, so long as it’s a doctor. They aren’t interested in Muzna’s writing. They are always concerned about what the Pakistani community think, and would rather break-up Muzna’s friendships than risk their daughter being shamed. It’s a good job they don’t know about that guy who tried to groom Muzna over the internet, then. But that was three years ago -it can’t happen again.

Muzna thinks she has met her soulmate when she starts a new school and befriends Arif. The popular girls can’t believe it. What does a good-looking guy want with a girl like Muzna? Muzna doesn’t care what she think. She and Arif are on the same wavelength. He knows what it’s like to be a Muslim. To be marginalised.

Unable to turn to her parents for guidance, and low on self-esteem, Muzna is easy pickings for the men looking to radicalize young people.


An important and necessary book, I Am Thunder will frighten you as you learn how easily young people can be exploited by extremists. Muzna is such a vivid character, I pleaded with her not to get herself into trouble even as the story was set-up. By vivid I don’t mean extroverted – Muzna is a deep-thinker, and a follower. This is one of the things which gets her into trouble. She is easily lead from one thought to another. When I say Muzna is a vivid character I mean Muhammad Khan has given her a strong voice. She and her friends are authentically teenage in a way which few YA books pull off. She also has this strong sense of her own identity which she feels compelled to hide.

Muzna’s parents are shown with a balance of sympathy and scrutiny. They aren’t bad parents. They have high aspirations for Muzna, and Dad works day and night to save for her future. They also care too much about what the community think, despite being liberal Muslims and well-integrated into jobs and British society. I think Muhammad Khan has opened a very important conversation about the immense pressure some Asian parents place on their children. As someone who grew up in North East London, I was sometimes in class with 28 kids who were supposed to become doctors or lawyers.

The earliest part of the book is set when Muzna is three years younger. This sets up her insecurities, and how these lead her to trouble. It also comes back at the end in a way which makes you realise how important is was all along.

As well as showing how Muzna is radicalised, the story shows the different attitudes of people around her. How it feels to know anything you say in class could be reported to Prevent. How it feels when people on the bus blame you for bomb attacks the other side of the world. The most important thing about showing this is young people who experience these events – or even worries about these events – now have a character to turn to. They can see the conclusions Muzna comes to, and can relate to her feelings. It might also make other teenagers think twice about prejudice they have picked up.

I love this book. It’s a phenomenal start to 2018. I can’t wait to hear more from Muhammad Khan.


Huge thanks to Macmillan Children’s Books for sending an advance copy in exchange for honest review.







waiting on wednesday

Waiting On Wednesday: Hamilton and Peggy by L.M. Elliott


For fans of the extraordinary Broadway musical Hamilton, New York Times bestselling author L. M. Elliott delivers a richly detailed historical novel about the lively Peggy Schuyler and her devoted friendship to Alexander Hamilton during the drama of the American Revolution.

Revolutionary. Friend. Lover. Sister.

Peggy Schuyler has always felt like she’s existed in the shadows of her beloved sisters: the fiery, intelligent Angelica and the beautiful, sweet Eliza. The three of them have a magnetic pull—they are stronger together than they are alone. But it’s in the throes of a chaotic war that Peggy finds herself a central figure amid Loyalists and Patriots, spies and traitors, and friends and family. Charming, quick-witted, and clever beyond compare, Peggy is determined to use her talents to make her own mark on the Revolutionary War.

When a flirtatious aide-de-camp, Alexander Hamilton, writes an eloquent letter to Peggy asking for her help in wooing the earnest Eliza, Peggy finds herself unable to deny such an impassioned plea. A fast friendship forms between the two, but Alexander is caught in the same war as her father, General Philip Schuyler, and the danger to all their lives is real. Everything is a battlefield—from the front lines to their carefully coded letters—and Peggy must put herself in harm’s way to protect the people she loves. But will her bravery and intelligence be enough to keep them all safebird

Why I can’t wait to read Alexander And Peggy:

  • Alex and Eliza was a big hit this year, a YA Novel about Alexander Hamilton and Eliza Schuyler. This is about the same area of history, a story made famous by the musical show. Hands-up in the air, I don’t know the story, but that’s about to change. People often connect to history through fictionalised accounts of real people. The first step to understanding is caring. 


  • The main relationship in life was between Hamilton and Peggy’s sister Eliza. The first question that puts in everybody’s heads is how far, in this fictional spin-off, will things go between Hamilton and Peggy? Will there be any hint of romance?


  • Sometimes the most interesting stories during a war can be found behind the battle lines. I’m interested in Peggy’s story, and her attempts to protect the men she loves. What gets in her way? What sort of danger does she find herself in?


  • Peggy sounds similar in character to Jo March from Little Women. I think this, most of all, is the reason I want to read Hamilton And Peggy. The feisty sister? American Revolution? Can another girl take over our hearts like Jo March? 


Hamilton and Peggy! A Revolutionary Friendship

Harper 360

February 2018 (UK)

top ten tuesday

10 Wintery Reads



The Polar Bear Explorer’s Club by Alex Bell: frost faires, Snow Queens and pygmy dinosaurs. A group of explorers trek across the snowy Icelands. Will Stella Starflake Pearl survive when she is separated from her group? This year’s tale of wintery magic. I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time, and plan to read it in one sitting with generous helpings of hot chocolate. 


Father Christmas and Me by Matt Haig *whispers* I’ve already read this, and it is fantastic. I love Matt Haig’s take on Father Christmas’s home, and the topical themes of fake news and divisive reporting. Sounds serious? Don’t be fooled? There’s plenty of Drimwickery – that’s elvish magic – and Spickle Dancing to keep things light-hearted. 


The Cruel Prince by Holly Black I read the first chapters on ReadersFirst and am now seriously excited to read this book. The twins always knew their sister Vivi was different. They didn’t know she was heir to the elfish throne. Not until the elf king came and killed their mother. Wintery? Holly Black captures the darkness of fairytales perfectly, and I think that is never more atmospheric than in winter.


The Lost Boy by Christina Henry This has been on my shelf since late summer, and lots of my Twitter friends have read it recently. Peter Pan is the ultimate Panto. I think the original story is as good today as it was in the early 1900s, and look forward to reading this origin story for Captain Hook.


Confessions Of An Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire Gregory Maguire was one of my favourite authors in my actual teens. This was my favourite – it crosses the story of Cinderella with the history of the tulips in Amsterdam. 


Barefoot On The Wind by Zoe Marriott One of my favourite reads of 2017. Beauty And The Beast YA style. She’s a rebel who doesn’t want to marry. He lives in the middle of a cursed forest. Beautiful and bold, I love this book on so many levels.


Winter Magic (ed. Abi Elphinstone) A great collection of stories by some of the best children’s authors at work in the UK, this book dragged the seasonal story out of it’s slump (Am I the only one who found winter stories too predictable before Winter Magic?) There is something for everyone here – snow dragons and Victorian frost fairs, haunted kirks buried beneath the snow and magic colouring books. 


Great Expectations by Charles Dickens My GCSE teacher said something about Great Expectations which remains true. If you only remember one fictional character for the rest of your life, it will be Miss Havisham. Try me. Miss Havisham will haunt you. 


Kit’s Wilderness by David Almond The book starts where it ends. Christmas eve, when the children who were believed dead ‘come back to life’ and walk through the town. The most interesting thing is what the text says about story structure, and the role of stories themselves.


The Tailor Of Gloucester My favourite Beatrix Potter. I’ve associated with Christmas since I was knee-high. We had the cartoon recorded (yes, on actual tape), and it ended with a rendition of The Sussex Carol. The story is set one Christmas eve, when a tailor fears he will be ruined because he is too ill to go out and buy silk twist to finish a wedding suit. The resident mice are aware of his plight … 


What are you reading this winter? Any old favourites? Let me know in the comments below.

Young Adult Reviews

If she jumped, what happened to her body? My Side Of The Diamond by Sally Gardner.

Train read: Carlisle to London



That’s not fair, Mr Jones. I’ve told you about Icarus. You said you’d answer one question. 

What if this is the end of my story – What if I stop now? What then? 

All right, but I want to have the chance to ask you a few things. Is that a deal?

Look, Mr Jones, Becky could have been cooking up porkies when she told me later that she understood those scribbles. She’d only translated fragments and when they were shown to her editor, Tess, at the inquest, she said she thought they were notes Becky had made for her next novel.

(My Side Of The Diamond by Sally Gardner. P51.) birdSynopsis:

Jazmin’s friend Becky is the talented one. So clever, writing novels as a young age. Then she disappears. Did she jump off the roof? Fall? Was she pushed? The inquest says she jumped, but it never explains why her body wasn’t found.

A string of similar cases have happened in recent history. The only thing they have in common is Icarus, the beguiling young man who was jailed many years ago. How is it possible that Icarus is still a young man? How does he walk in and out of jail every night without being caught?

And why did Jazmin Little let herself get involved in all this?


A novel full of beautiful ideas, but in the end it didn’t hold my attention. The main problem for me was the huge cast of characters. Key events happen in the present day, and to a number of people a generation ago. It all comes together, but in the middle I found it hard to give my attention to every storyline.The other thing that complicates it for me is the number of beings. We have aliens and cyborgs, girls made of clay and a boy reawaken from the dead. Few of those are the key cast of characters.

Why post the review if it’s not glowing? As another reviewer noted, this isn’t a bad book. Not by any standards. The writing is compelling. I cared hugely about Becky and the pressure she was put under by her family. I also cared about Jazmin, the girl from the council estate who is always under suspicion, even though she’s the one with a level-head. I wanted Jazmin to show everyone what she could do in her own right. The characters are created so well I cared hugely about them. It’s not a bad book – it’s an unusual book. You come out at the end wondering what you’ve been through. Some people will love that. It wasn’t for me.

The book itself is a beautiful object, and I love how the illustrations work with the text. My advice is to give it a go – if you’re uncertain about the heavy number of sci-fi beings, and the multiple stories, try it from your local library first.


Thanks to Readers First and Hot Key Books for sending a copy in exchange for honest review.

Early Reader Reviews

Review: Geronimo Stilton – Cat & Mouse in a Haunted House



In front of me was a huge room filled with antique furniture. Dust and cobwebs hung over the sofas like unwanted guests the morning after a party. Gigantic paintings of cats from centuries ago covered the walls. I was glad not to be living in that period! Too many cats back then.

Then I noticed a velvet wall hanging with embroidered writing. It read:

This Castle Belongs to the most honourable Duke Bigpaw Cannycat.

 (Geronimo Stilton: Cat & Mouse in a Haunted House)

bird Synopsis:

Geronimo Stilton is back for a spooktastic adventure.

 Journalist and adventurer Geronimo Stilton comes across a castle in the Dark Forest. The castle appears to be abandoned. A name plaque says it belongs to the Cannycat family, but that can’t be possible. There haven’t been cats on the island since the battle of Raterloo in 1754 … have there?

 When Geronimo Stilton encounters the ghost of Slicepaw Cannycat, he decides to investigate. With the help of his mouse family, he sets out to solve the castle’s mystery, but there are those who would rather he kept his whiskers out.birdReview:

Geronimo Stilton is something of an easy-reader empire. Originally a hit in Italy, the stories have been published in numerous countries. The beauty of this, as I discussed with my polylinguist and primary teacher friend Christina, is you could give a child stories in multiple languages. While they will find their home language easier to read, the stories are simple enough that a child could use them to look at other languages in action.

I’m  also impressed with the corresponding website. There is huge value here for reluctant readers. The website has colouring pages, computer games, puzzles and videos, meaning the reading experience can be adapted to reward the individual child.

What did I think of Cat & Mouse In A Haunted House? While I would say its value lies in being educational, it was a cute story. I liked the world – Geronimo uses words and phrases which build the image of him as a mouse. The mystery built up nicely, with twists and turns in the right place.

I was confused about whether Raterloo was supposed to be Waterloo. The name is similar, but the date is out. Other books in the series borrow events from human history, and I would rather they all corresponded, or were clearly fictional. Maybe that’s just me, but I found it a bit hazy as to whether it was supposed to promote an interest in history.

Geronimo is a friendly character. His fear at the start of the story makes him more relatable, and the fact that he overcomes it to solve the mystery means readers might root for him, and follow him to further adventures.

A cute easy-reader, which has clearly thought how to attract children and make them want to read more.


Thanks to Sweet Cherry Publishing who sent a copy in exchange for honest review.


Q & A

Guest Post – Judi Curtin



Judi Curtin is the author of a huge list of books. She has been described as ‘Ireland’s Jacqueline Wilson’, possibly because of her prolific output, and because her work would appeal to the same readers of Middle-Grade contemporary fiction which is strong on friendships and issues. 

Stand By Me is the latest novel in the Molly and Beth series. The great thing about Molly and Beth, aside from their friendship, is their ability to travel back in time. I was instantly hooked. I love time travel, and think it is important for children to read about the recent past as well as earlier periods of history. 

I was lucky enough to send some questions to Judi, and it is lovely to share her answers with you. Do check out my review of Stand By Me when you’ve finished reading the Q & A. bird

How do you think childhood has changed since the 60s? I think childhood nowadays is more controlled. In the 1960s children spent a lot of time entertaining themselves, which was good for their creativity.

Is there anything you wish modern children could experience from the 60s? I’d love them to experience the freedom – where they could play outside for hours, without parents fretting over the dangers.

Why should children read about the recent past? Children usually think of their parents as dinosaurs – so it’s no harm for them to learn a little about the realities of the past. It might make them a little more sympathetic.

Stand By Me focuses on changing attitudes to medical conditions. Is there a reason you chose this theme? I think it’s terrible that very often in the past, people with disabilities were locked away from the world, as if they were somehow shameful. We complain a lot about the modern world, but in this we have greatly improved.

 Stand By Me is also about missed opportunities to continue friendships, and regrets over time. Do you have any messages for your readers? I don’t consciously write books with messages, but I think we all need to remember that we can’t change the past, so it’s best to nurture and value friendships. Supposed slights can be so damaging, yet seem trivial when viewed over the space of years.

 If you could travel in time, which era would you visit and why?I’d love to go back to when my grandparents were young, so I could see them as teenagers, and talk to them about their hopes and dreams for the future.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review – Stand By Me by Judi Curtin



‘I’ve thought about Jeanie a lot in recent years,’ said Graham. ‘I thought about trying to find her – but the guilt and the shame always held me back … but still – I always hoped that fate would bring us together – I always hoped that one day Jeanie and I would meet again – but … well that’s not going to happen now is it? That ship has sailed without me.’

Beth hugged him. ‘Oh Graham,’ she said. ‘You poor thing. I wish we could do something to help.’ 

He gave a small, sad smile. ‘You listened,’ he said. 


Molly and Beth are back for their second adventure.

Beth’s Great-Uncle Graham is usually the most childlike adult they know. He receives news that his childhood friend Jeanie has died, and suddenly he’s down. It’s not only her death that upsets Graham, but the intervening years. Why did he fail to keep in touch with Jeannie? What happened that summer when they were thirteen? Why has Graham blamed himself all these years?

The girls return to Rico’s, the strange shop which played a part in their first time travel adventure. If they travel back to the 1960s, can they help Uncle Graham? Will they cut it at 1960s school? What the heck is a beehive? A warm adventure which shows that real friendship lasts a lifetime.birdReview:

 A warm and addictive read about the effect the past has on our lives. I love time travel. Time-travel, time-slip, and books where protagonists come to terms with events in their own past. The past makes us.

Molly and Beth live together. I believe there is more about their pasts, and their parents’ relationship in book one, which I will seek out. They are also friends. I love their modern-day family, where Beth’s Uncle is important in Molly’s life. I also like the relationship with Uncle Graham. I’ve been advised that children aren’t interested in adults and their problems, and maybe it is a difficult subject to pull off, but I think children can be curious about the recent past. Family stories are the first place to start.

Jeanie’s story highlights changes in attitude to disability over the past 50 years. This was a great focus. In the 1960s, many people with long-term conditions, sight, hearing and mobility problems were written off by society. This is one reason it is so important for children to think about the recent past. It enables them to see the importance of issues which prevail despite change, and to think about their own attitudes.

Graham’s grief is also a lovely story. Instead of focusing on the immediate shock, Stand By Me shows feelings of guilt and self-blame which people often suffer as part of their grief. Graham’s guilt is about the years in which he failed to contact Jeanie, and his understanding of what happened when they were thirteen. I like that the time travel doesn’t magic Graham’s feelings away. Far more realistically, it gives him some comfort.

I like the style of this story. It’s time-travel, but would be suited to readers of contemporary fiction. There is nothing fantastical about the time-travel. It just enables the girls to see a wider scope of their family’s lives. I hope to read the first novel, and am pleased to see Judi Curtin has a back list. Can’t wait to indulge. a


Huge thanks to Aoife Harrison/O’Brien Press for sending a copy in exchange for honest review.

waiting on wednesday

Waiting On Wednesday: The House With Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson

Twelve-year-old Marinka dreams of a normal life, where her house stays in one place long enough for her to make friends. But her house has chicken legs and moves on without warning. The only people Marinka meets are dead, and they disappear when her grandmother, Baba Yaga, guides them through The Gate. Marinka wants to change her destiny, but her house has other ideas…


Why I can’t wait to read The House With Chicken Legs:


  • I love fairy tales and folk lore. Russian fairytales aren’t one of the areas I am better aquainted with, and it will be lovely to expand my knowledge alongside reading the novel.


  • ‘The only people Marinka meets are dead.’ The Gate and the dead remind me of Sabriel, a series I loved as a teenager and must finish. The most intriguing thing about Sabriel was her ability to bring people back from the gates of death.


  • Is there one place the house wants to go? A fate it has in mind, or something it wants to fix? I’m intrigued about the motives of this house.


  • Marinka has met few people, and lived closely with her Grandmother. I wonder whether an adventure will be a challenge for someone who has lead a relatively isolated life, and how she will change as a character.


  • Sophie Anderson is a fell dweller. I want to see whether the Cumbrian landscape has influenced her writing.


The House With Chicken Legs

Usbourne Publishing Ltd

April 2018


8 Novelty Presents Where The Novelty Wore Off


There’s no need to buy Christmas presents this year. Not in our house. Between the garage, the loft and the cupboard under the stairs, we have a house full of presents-past, which have barely been touched. It would make a great sleepover, if I could be bothered to go through the packing boxes.

We moved two years ago. Plenty went to charity shops, but the move happened in a small time frame. You have to pity the removal company. They boxed it all up, and here it is. Still unsorted, thanks to the additional storage in the new house.

Here are some of the unloved Christmas presents I would find if I went through the boxes. Reader – buy wisely. You may want it for Christmas, but will you want it once the novelty wears off? bird1-1213888416aexzPopcorn Maker. And Ice-cream maker, and fondue set. We didn’t go so far as the chocolate fountain. The Ice-cream maker had a healthy run during my childhood, but the others were gimmiks all the way.

Scalextric.  Every birthday between the ages of eight and 13, Dad tried to persuade me I wanted a Scalextric. He nearly succeeded when I was ten. Eventually the truth came out. The only thing my daddy ever wanted. As a small boy, he had a car track, but not an actual Scalextric. A family decision was made to buy the one thing Dad had ever wanted. How many times has it been played with? I reckon twice.

Robin Felting Kit. Still knocking around in my bedroom from last Christmas. It’s your fault, Kirstie Allsopp. You made it look so easy. Stab the polystyrene and the felt attaches. Stabby, stab, stab, and you too have a claim to creativity. What happened when I stabbed the polystyrene? The felt fell on the floor, and I made a small hole.

Grabby Machine. Think Toy Story. Think the Clllllaaaawwww. Own your very own (mini) arcade machine, and enjoy infinite goes to get things out. Great fun, until you snorkelling_with_the_swollen_purple_headrealise if you ever want to play with it you’ll have to fill it yourself. Put stuff you might want in, and everybody falls out over the fiver. Put tat in and nobody can be bothered to play with it. We bought this for a get-together and it was definitely a one-hit wonder. 

Hair braiding. This goes back to when I was nine or ten, and was probably advertised in a pre-teen magazine. Hands up who remembers Girl Talk? Star Girl? 1990s Zoella. I have the kind of hair which grows outwards rather than down, and zilch interest in the methods required to tame it. 

71sv4w2iyul-_ac_us218_Adult Colouring Book. It’s mindful. It’s got pretty little bunny rabbits amid intricate designs. I might have finished half a page. 

Modern Monopoly. Like standard Mononpoly, except you get a pretend credit card, and even the brown ones are beyond the wildest dreams of Millenials. Instead of chance cards, some flipping machine can hit you with a ‘chance’ at any moment and rob you of your hard-earned cash. Enough to sour family relations. 

Wii Fit. Not a computer game, not exercise, and it is galling when a nine year-old beats wii_balance_board_transparentyou at hula hoops because you have no co-ordination. Go for a walk. There’s more to see. 

Clockwork Seal. If I had more display space, this would be out. It is an object of beauty. Wind it up and it flaps its flippers. Only … there’s not much more to do with it, and it gathers dust. 


rainbow_loom_multicolored_bandsOne I would Keep: Loom Bands. I bought the first packet for ‘research’. Could I teach my Rainbows how to make a simple bracelet? The sparkly blue, the grape-scented purple and the official Rainbow Loom? Those were all for me. This shouldn’t have been a hobby I clicked with. Aside from being 20 years older than the average weaver, I have no coordination. Guess what? I got into intricate designs, as demonstrated by tween vloggers. Great fun. 



Middle Grade Reviews

Review: King Bones by Chris Hallatt Wells

Untitled design - copykingbones


Danny felt a solid wall behind him. He turned and through the murk he saw the outline of a mighty door carved from solid stone.

Danny felt the creature’s breath on his exposed neck. He felt their terrible hands reaching towards him. The door was his only escape. Although he knew the stone door was far too heavy for a boy to open by himself, Danny pushed it anyway. 

At his first touch, the stone door swung inwards, silently, on oiled hinges.

‘Welcome Danny Bouygues,’ boomed a voice. ‘I’ve been waiting for you.’

It was the king. birdSynopsis:

The crown jewels have been stolen.

When Danny’s parents are arrested for the theft, he is sent to stay with Aunty Ratbag. Infamous in Danny’s family for hating children, life with Aunty Ratbag is a series of rules and punishments. Even worse is Greezy Academy. Everyone in Greezy is terrible, except for that new girl, and the local gravedigger.

Then the gravedigger introduces him to King Bones, undead Anglo-Saxon King. King Bones and his warriors want to rescue their wives, who were buried in a different place. So begins Danny’s mission, which leads to friendship and a life of theft.birdReview:

King Bones is an adventure which appeals to children’s sense of macabre. It’s humour which will appeal to fans of Gareth P Jones and Chris Priestly.

You’ve got to pity Danny. The first half of the story sets you up to root for him, as he endures the imprisonment of his parents, life with Aunty Ratbag, and the torture which counts for education in the town of Greezy. The school reminds me of Dahl’s Matilda, without Miss Honey. Danny and new girl Audrey stand out as the only people who find their situation strange. I liked the contrast between their home lives. Where Danny is with the frankly abusive Aunty Ratbag, Audrey’s home is palatial. I’m glad Danny had issues over this. It wouldn’t have felt realistic if he’d not begrudged Audrey her luck.

It’s fun to see a story about a child who becomes a master thief which isn’t apologetic for the fact. It’s not a new thing – Oliver Twist has endured for centuries – but I suppose given the natural shape of a story, it is usual for a protagonist to develop beyond their thieving ways. Not so here, and I’m glad. Danny and Audrey are good characters, good people, who have an adventure. Most children understand the boundary between life and fiction. Theft can be fun in fiction.

There is also some great historical content, which will go down well with teachers covering the Anglo-Saxon period. Personally, I enjoyed the story more once King Bones came along, and would have liked him to be introduced earlier, but I’m sure the Dahlesque school will go down as well with other readers. Hallatt Wells certainly doesn’t hold back on toilet humour, or the grotty and grim.


Thanks to Mikka at Everything With Words for sending a copy in exchange for honest review.