Middle Grade Reviews

Blog Tour: Royal Rebel by Carina Axelsson

royal rebel

Extract:

And according to my Mum (Her Majesty Sophia XII, Queen Of Waldenburg, if you want to be technical), if there is one thing, (actually, according to my mother there are many, but for the sake of simplicity I’ll stick to one here) a princess and future Queen does not do it is vlog about fashion … 

(Royal Rebel by Carina Axelsson. P10.) 

cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a586.png

Synopsis:

Lily has always wanted to be a vlogger. There’s only one problem. Princesses are not supposed to be on social media. As the future Queen of Waldenberg, there is a whole list of rules Lily is supposed to follow. When she finds a secret turret in the castle, she is able to follow her dreams and set up a fashion vlog. The only trouble is keeping it a secret from Grandmaman. 

cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a586.png

Review:

The Princess Diaries gets a makeover for the YouTube generation. This is the story of a princess who wants to live her own life and who is unafraid of breaking the rules. 

Her battle is with her grandmother, and all the rules a princess must follow to maintain composure. 

The story shows readers that it is possible to be independent and motivated while loving dresses and tiaras and all things glitzy. Lots of gatekeepers (adults who pick books for children) who are thinking about gender identity are getting stuck on that issue. Should we ban stories of princesses and fashion vloggers. The answer is not at all. Just make sure those girls aren’t stuck in stereotypical roles and make sure those books are available to children regardless of gender. (Fingers crossed for some boys from the fashion vlogging scene in later books. They are the perfect example of boys who like dressing up.) 

I loved Waldenberg. It follows in a tradition of fictional European royalties which is beloved of children’s literature enthusiasts (indeed author Katherine Woodfine pays homage to these countries by dropping them into her first Taylor And Rose novel). Waldenberg is a little bit fairytale with its turrets and twisting pavements, but it also has all the modern necessities a fashion vlogger could dream of.

Waldenberg is a place noted for its positive approach to feminism. The university specialises in the subject, children take their mother’s name and the country is ruled by Queens. This gives young readers a chance to question the things they take for granted and form their own views. 

Lily is not only a princess and vlogger, she’s unafraid to use her own brain. A lovely story which encourages readers to form their own views. This will be a big hit with anyone who loves all things pink and sparkly. 

 

Royal Rebel is available from Usborne Publishing. Thanks to EdPr for my copy.

Advertisements
Middle Grade Reviews

Review: A Pinch Of Magic by Michelle Harrison

pinchofmagiccover

Synopsis:

Betty Widdershins longs to leave the family home on the island of Crowstone and explore the world. Crowstone is bleak and oppressive with its marshes and tower and prison and Betty is certain there must be more to the world. Then she learns that she and her sisters are bound by an ancient family curse to stay on the island for the rest of their lives.

That isn’t the only magic in the Widdershins family. Three magical objects have been passed down the family for generations – a carpet bag, a mirror and a set of nesting dolls. The sisters inherit one object each and with them, they gain a pinch of magic.

Betty is determined to break the curse but to do that she must unravel certain mysteries – who is the mysterious prisoner Granny has been visiting in prison? Do the special objects contain enough magic to help break the curse? Who was the witch who cursed the family and began all this in the first place?

An atmospheric and timeless fairy tale.BBD35E74-4B7A-46CA-8F8F-0E29FC08A586Review:

An ancient curse. Three objects with a specific and special magic. A spooky prison island. Three sisters whose desires pull them in different directions. This story has all the ingredients of a great tale and Michelle Harrison brings them together as only a true storyteller can.

I have loved Harrison’s work since I first read The Thirteen Treasures almost ten years ago. With black cats and quaint place names and references to folk customs, the settings are straight after my own heart. She’s also a great writer. Her plots keep the reader turning the pages will her prose ensures they savour every word. A Pinch Of Magic is no exception. It will delight old fans and new readers. The setting is particularly evocative – the misty marshlands and the three islands. Repent (which houses the prison), Lament (where the dead are buried) and Torment (which is out of bounds to all but the exiled.) The thought of looking across the water and seeing those islands is enough to give anyone chills.

The three sisters – Betty, Fliss and Charlie – are distinct and memorable characters. Each one has a strong voice and we very quickly learn what they want and how they are likely to react in any given situation. Charlie particularly is a treasure. She’s the youngest and she demands to be heard, even if it goes against her older sisters’ plans. She is the voice of little sisters everywhere, and even those of us who have grown up until we are practically the same age as our siblings will smile with recognition.

The readers learn about the Widdershins family history along with Betty, Fliss and Charlie until we find out how the curse came to be. I love it when a strand of the story builds up to a full understanding of historical events. The story concerns two sisters, Sorsha and Prue, and their desperation to leave the island of Torment.

A Pinch Of Magic is a book full of wonder. I was up into the small hours to see the heroines through to the final pages. A must-read for fans of fantasy and adventure.

 

To meet the heroines of this story and to share their very special gingerbread recipe, click here. 

 

A Pinch Of Magic is available 07.02.2019 from Simon And Schuster UK. Thanks to Simon And Schuster UK for my proof copy. 

 

 

 

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Sea Saw by Tom Percival

img_8069

The Sea Saw by Tom Percival. 

Sofia loses her bear on the beach and nobody sees but the sea. Although Sofia and her family search, there is no sign of the bear. The sea has taken him into its care and together they search for Sofia. The little bear ends up on a journey through rivers and oceans to be reunited with his owner.

A heartwarming tale of childhood friends and the things that are precious to us.

Losing a favourite toy must be every child’s worst nightmare. Perhaps something which still tugs at the hearts of big kids. We can all name that toy who is family. Stories of toys reunited by train companies and travel providers regularly make good publicity. People reunited with their stuffed friends makes a good story.Q

img_8162-1This picture book is a firm keeper. It has a timeless feel and it is the sort of story which is read and reread for sheer pleasure.

The illustrations feel both vintage and modern. They capture the historical setting while remaining relevant and relatable to a modern audience. I love the use of grey and black for the indoor scenes. Only the character is shown in colour, which allows the reader to focus on her actions and emotions. Later on in the story we see different seas and rivers, beaches and harbours, which remind us that although time passes, the sea remains constant.

The ending will make you smile as it brings tears to your eyes.

A beautiful story which offers new ways to look at loss, while still offering hope of reunion. This is a must for any childhood bookshelf.

 

Thanks to Simon And Schuster UK for my copy of The Sea Saw. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Alba The Hundred Year Old Fish by Lara Hawthorn

img_8059

Review: Alba The Hundred Year Old Fish by Lara Hawthorne

Alba loves all things beautiful and shiny, and it is her pleasure to bring her treasures back to her coral reef home. Over the years her collection grows. One day, she realises there aren’t so many fish as there used to be. In fact, the coral isn’t looking so healthy either, and instead of shiny treasures, she can only find strange and horrible rubbish. 

When Alba gets trapped in a plastic bottle which washes up on a beach, a little girl decides it is time to act. With the help of her community, she makes part of the ocean a healthier place for Alba to live again. 

This story was inspired by a rough-eye rockfish which lived until 205 years old. It was also inspired by the changes which the ocean has undergone in that time. Changes which are entirely down to human activity. 

img_8076Birds are dying with plastic in their stomach. Dolphins are getting caught in plastic debris. The list of animals harmed by plastic goes on and on, but even with growing awareness of the problem, it will take something else for humans to commit to a real change. It takes empathy. Learning to care about the environment from a young age has never been more important and story plays a key role in nurturing empathy. Soon awareness campaigns won’t be enough. The next generation needs to care about the world without being told. 

I love the illustrations which lay out the changes Alba has seen in the ocean. A colourful world or a grey one. The choice is as simple as that. 

img_8072That’s not to say this book is all agenda. It is a gentle story which shows the difference one determined person can make. It also gives us a look at the coral reef and underwater world in all its colourful glory. 

Lara Hawthorne is one of my favourite illustrators of recent years. She makes eye-catching use of colour and pattern. These are the type of pictures which I look over and over to spot more detail. This would make a lovely book to share at bedtime just because every picture opens up a whole new conversation. ‘Did you spot the diamond? Which fish is your favourite?’ It is a real book for sharing. 

This would also be a lovely book to encourage children to draw underwater pictures. It shows shells and corals and fish in their infinite shapes and colours. 

Alba The Hundred Year Old Fish may have a strong message, but it isn’t an awareness campaign. It is the sort of book which promotes true empathy and love. I’m a big fan and I can see this being a huge hit we look to start more conversations about plastic pollution. 

 

Thanks to Big Picture Press and Molly Holt for my copy of Alba The Hundred Year Old Fish. Opinions my own.

Lifestyle

All about the Hansel And Gretel candle from Bookworm Candles (Plus discount code)

All about the Hansel And Gretel candle from Bookworm Candles (Plus discount code)

With the Christmas lights down and the scents of the festive season a memory, the first months of the year can feel like a dark and miserable time. I was sent a candle by the lovely people at Bookworm Candles, and it turned out to be just the thing to brighten the dark days. 

Regular readers know how much I love fairy tales, so this was the perfect choice for me. I am always looking for bookish bits and pieces and this candle sits so nicely next to my fairytale collection. 

img_8065

What do you think of when you think about Hansel and Gretel? For me it is the sweetie house. This candle smells of buttery-biscuits and is sprinkled with hundreds and thousands. It brings to mind those biscuit walls all studded with sweets and decorations. 

The candle is a generous size and it is 100% soy. (Great news to a veggie like me.) The tin is beautifully decorated with images and phrases related to Hansel and Gretel, and I love the ribbon decoration tied around the lid. 

This would make a lovely gift for all your bookish friends. 

img_8062Bookworm candles have a great range, with candles inspired by stories as diverse as myths, fairytales, superhero narratives, classics, and contemporary favourites. 

Interested? I’ve got a discount code for you to use if you want to treat yourself and add an extra dimension to your reading. Just enter BLOGGERS20 on any order for a 20% discount. 

 

Thanks to the lovely people at Bookworm Candles for sending me a candle to try.

Young Adult Reviews

Review: Pulp by Robin Talley

pulp

Extract:

Janet had never understood, not until she’d turned the thin brown pages of Dolores Wood’s novel, that other girls might feel the way she did. That a world existed outside the one she’d always known. 

(Pulp by Robin Talley. P36.) 

cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a5861.pngSynopsis:

Washington DC.

1955: Janet Jones is in love and she has finally discovered a romance novel she can relate to. Reading Pulp fiction helps Janet to embrace her feelings for her friend Marie. Everything should be perfect, except it is practically a crime to be gay in 1955 DC. As Janet comes to terms with her feelings, she begins to write fiction of her own, but her writing puts both herself and her friend in danger.

2017: Abby Zimet’s family is falling apart and her relationship with Linh is over. As she struggles to deal with her feelings, Abby becomes more engrossed in her senior creative writing project: an attempt to write a subverted pulp novel. The more research she does, the more Abby longs to talk to author Marian Love.

cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a5861.pngReview:

Sometimes a book just blows you away. Pulp did that to me.

It is a story about love, a story about prejudice and a story about writing. It is about a specific genre of fiction which emerged in reaction to prejudice faced by very real people who just wanted the freedom to love. It captures two time periods in the same city. Two generations of young adults forming their identities.

Both Abby and Janet discover pulp fiction for the first time, but they discover it in totally different eras. Pulp novels were often forced to show drastic endings which warned women off such ‘behaviour’ but these endings could be tacked on to narratives about genuine romance. To Janet in 1955, this is groundbreaking. It is the first time she has heard voices like her own. To Abby in 2017, these novels are in need of an update. I love how we see their contrasting reactions. We come to empathise with people who are living in a climate of censure and what it means to get around those restrictions and read something even partially like your own experience.

The story will speak to anyone who has come out or struggled to form their own identity, about how much comfort there is in fiction and in knowing that there are other people who feel the same way as ourselves.

As someone trying to bridge the gap between writing for myself as writing as a career, this story spoke to me in volumes. It showed so much about the writing process which a lot of people are often unaware of – how genres often conform to patterns, how writers both consciously and subconsciously emulate other writers, and how stories often begin with something from real life. It showed how much work it takes to get to one complete manuscript (hint: there’s a volume of work behind book one) and how authors sometimes wish they could revise their early novels.

A couple of reviews have suggested that this book is hard to follow. I’m going to dispute that although I understand how the reviewers came to that conclusion. Throughout both storylines there are extracts from other works – books read and written by Abby and Janet. Two of these feature heavily, to the point where you might try to follow the fictional characters’ stories. My advice? Don’t treat these as additional plotlines. They teach us so much about the characters we are investing in, the characters we are following, but don’t mistake them for additional stands of the plot.

Aside from that, I loved the characterisation. Abby is so set on one version of happily-ever-after but she grows and changes a lot over the course of the novel in a way which felt realistic. This is a strong narrative for older YA readers and one which lots of adults will relate to with hindsight.

If you love realistic and heartfelt contemporary novels or novels which celebrate all things literary, give Pulp a go. It’s one of the special ones.  

 

Thanks to Young Adult HQ and Nina Douglas PR for my copy of Pulp. Opinions my own.

 

 

 

Young Middle Grade

Young Middle-Grade round-up: January 2018

Young middle-grade round-up: January 2018

 

Bramble The Hedgehog by Jane Clarkebramblehedge

Bramble the Hedgehog has a wobbly tooth. Dr Kitty Cat’s advise is to eat lots of sticky food. When the little animals go to the funfair, Bramble embraces this advice. He eats lots of sticky sweets until he feels very poorly.

This is the latest title in a charming range which is perfect for children at the Squishy McFluff reading stage. The Dr Kitty Cat series incorporates pictures of real animals into the illustrations and is guaranteed to interest animal-lovers or to hook readers on cute factor alone.

The stories also include basic first aid and medical advice. I think this is a fantastic idea as too many people grow up unable to respond to basic first aid situations.

 

youngmg6

The Perfect Kitten by Holly Webb and Sophy Williams 

Abi has always wanted a kitten, so she is really excited when Mum phones the rescue shelter. Unfortunately, the family lives on a main road where cats have been run over before. The shelter isn’t willing to house a cat there.

Then a deaf kitten arrives. Flower will never be able to go outside, so she is the perfect pet for Abi’s family … if they can only keep her indoors.

As the companion of two rescue cats, this story warmed my heart. I know that animals are as much a part of the family as humans, and how very much we worry about them when they go outdoors. What I liked about this story was it made clear that the needs of our animal friends come above our own wants.

 

Shine – Sara’s Dream Role by Holly Webb and Monique Dong 

Sara is so pleased to have got a place at Shine stage school, but her parents would have preferred her to go to a normal school. If her marks aren’t perfect by the end of term, she will not be able to carry on at Shine. 

An audition comes up for the stage version of Mary Poppins. It is a role Sara has always wanted, but can she beat competition from fellow pupil Lizebeth?

The second book in the Shine series looks at parental pressure and rivalry from fellow pupils. It also sees Sara befriend a boy. For most readers, this series will be wish-fulfillment, but it always shows the hard work which goes into forming a talent.

 

Star Friends – Poison Potion by Linda Chapman and Lucy Fleming 

The latest installment in the series picks up where the last book left off. Three of the four friends still don’t trust new girl Essie, but she and her Mum are starting to settle into the village. Essie’s Mum even sells her own anti-aging potion. 

Then all the adults in the village start acting like children, and it is up to the friends to work out why. 

I am a big fan of this series, with its slightly folksy and magical feel. It does scary antagonists in a way which is just scary enough for its young audience. It is also firmly grounded by reality. There is at least one day-to-day issue such as peer pressure or friendship problems in every story. Unlike many of the younger middle-grade stories, these are best read in order as one story runs into another.) 

 

hotelflamingoHotel Flamingo by Alex Milway

Anna arrives at Hotel Flamingo to find it in a state of disrepair. The Hotel hasn’t had a paying guest for years because it can’t compete with it’s rival, the Glitz. Anna thinks this is a great pity because Hotel Flamingo had a reputation for welcoming all animals. She thinks there is space on Animal Boulevard for a hotel which is friendly and welcoming. 

She assembles a team and they get to work. Can they restore the hotel to its former glory and bring sunshine back to Animal Boulevard before the hotel inspector shuts them down? 

A bright and cheery story suitable for the youngest of middle-grade readers. I love the vintage style glamour of the hotel. It reminded me of Tiana’s diner in The Princess And The Frog. This will raise lots of laughs as Anna and her team try to meet the needs of every animal (the cat wants a litter tray, for example, while the Flamingos need access to a swimming pool). 

 

Thanks to Oxford University Press, Little Tiger UK and Piccadilly Press for the titles featured in this round-up. Opinions my own.