Review: Mr Shaha’s Recipes For Wonder – Alom Shaha


Mr Shaha’s Recipes For Wonder puts the look, ask and play back into science. From the start it makes clear that its aim is to help children to make enquiries for themselves. It is a recipe book of experiments which can be conducted at the kitchen table.

There are some positive messages here about enquiry and growth-mindset. The book deidicates a section to the idea that the reader might not know the answers when they set out. A helpful chart suggests the kind of questions they might start asking.

The book is divided into five sections:

  • Motion
  • Sound
  • Electricity, magnetism and light,
  • Atoms
  • Living things

These divisions are friendly to younger readers who might not have come across biology, chemistry and physics. Chapter pages give some information about the area of science, including examples of where it might be found. I would note that the book is physics-heavy. All the experiments are great but it would have been lovely to see more biology.

The experiments are easy to follow with clear illustrations of each stage. It is lovely that these instructions aren’t confined to tiny boxes. There is nothing worse than not being quite sure what you are supposed to do. The visual checklist of equipment also makes the book more friendly for younger readers. 

Timg_5186he book would be nice for a broad age-range. Younger children might gain something from supervised experiments while children in secondary school could use it to revise scientific concepts. It would also be nice for adults looking to demonstrate science to children. When I was a Brownie Leader, for example, we were always looking for half-hour activities which could be done with basic equipment. The book encourages adults to revise the concepts themselves first to help children get the most out of their learning.

This is also a lovely book to look at. Beautiful, bright water-colour illustrations accompany the experiments and it has an attractive and exciting cover. This would make a lovely gift for children who are curious about the world.

Thank you to Alom Shaha for my review copy. Opinions my own.

Louise Nettleton

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Charlie And Me by Mark Lowery



As I said, we went there on holiday last summer and it was amazing. This was fourteen months ago: when we still did things as a family. Back before things got a bit crummy at home. Back before Dad started working a Charillion hours a week and Mum started sleeping in. 


Martin sneaks out early one morning with the biscuit tin, his life savings and his little brother Charlie. They are going to travel across the country and relive the memories of their family trip to Cornwall. Since their last visit Dad has been working every hour of the day and Mum has been unable to do anything at all. That doesn’t get Charlie down. He has a wicked sense of humour and Martin thinks he is one in a million.

A story of brotherly love in the style of Two Weeks With The Queen and My Sister Lives On The Mantelpiece.

An excellent book. The publicity package should have come with tissues, because I sure as heck cried. Think Annabel Pitcher and you won’t be far off – memorable characters dealing with a difficult time in life.

The story alternates between the present moment, in which Martin and Charlie head to Cornwall, and the previous year’s holiday. Memories of their last trip to Cornwall build to an understanding of the present day. There is a huge twist towards the end. I decided to keep this review free of major-spoilers. This decision makes it difficult to share the key themes. All I can say is don’t peek. Don’t flick to the back, don’t scan the end pages. Keep reading and you will find yourself caught up in Charlie and Martin’s adventure.

Charlie is a wonderful character. He was born early and lots of people write him off. He hates school because he has to sit at the ‘thick-kid table’ and battle his way through work he doesn’t understand. Charlie has a creative mind and lots to say. I thought there were some really positive messages about able-ism and not making assumptions about people’s intelligence by one aspect of their ability.

Another positive aspect of this book was the working-class representation. Even in 2018 it is unusual to pick up a book and find it is about a working-class family from the North of England. Even less so to find a book about working-class lives which is not about social issues (eg drug-abuse or gang-crime.) This book was about a lovely family. It didn’t shy away from the fact that Dad had to save for two years to afford a holiday in the UK. It is important for kids to see themselves in their reading material. I’m pleased to see children’s fiction making more effort in terms of representation.

A story of brotherly love and friendship. Distinctive voices and a big heart. 


Thanks to Piccadilly Press for my copy. Opinions my own.

Louise Nettleton



Event round-up: Andersen Press YA Book Brunch

Book haul – how good does my TBR pile look right now?

On Saturday 10th March 2018 Andersen Press hosted a YA Book Brunch for bloggers, bookstagrammers and bookish social media aficionados. This was an opportunity to hear about forthcoming titles, meet some of their authors and to network with other bloggers. And there were croissants. What’s not to love?

This was the first time I had attended a blogging event. I couldn’t have been made more welcome. Harriet – the fab publicist at Andersen – and the regular bloggers made me totally welcome. It was lovely to meet some of the people I’ve spoken to over the year, like Faye and Bex, and to meet people whose blogs are now on my radar such as Josh.

We had a great presentation  of forthcoming titles from editor Chloe Sackur, and heard from authors Julia Gray and Emily Thomas. I would love to share some of the forthcoming books with you. I hope you’re excited too! 

birdReboud – Kwame Alexander

April 2018

Kwame Alexander is new to me. Since the event I’ve devoured his first prose-poetry novel and I can tell you his work is amazing. This is a must for fans of Sarah Crossan. Rebound follows Charlie Bell, a teenager whose life changes one summer when he discovers basketball, romance and his family’s past.


Emily Thomas

Mud – Emily Thomas

July 2018

Mud is a semi-autobiographical YA novel. Emily Thomas spent her adolescence on a Thames barge with her siblings and step-siblings. The experience informed parts of her novel. It is the story of Lydia, whose father has remarried. The family move to barge on the Thames estuary. Thomas spoke about the need for stability during times of family upheaval. Lydia’s best friend is her source of stability.



Shadows – Meaghan McIssac

March 2018

 Patrick is searching for a way back to his own time, and he doesn’t know what happened to his family. Shadows is the sequel to Movers. The books are set in a world where people are connected across time. People from the future are desperate to travel back to a time when there were more resources. It is a sci-fi refugee narrative, with a deadly sinister and Conservative group called BMAC hunting down people who enable time-travel. 

Check out my Twitter page for a GIVEAWAY.




What Girls Are Made Of – Elena K. Arnold

August 2018

This is the story of Nina, a girl recovering from an unhealthy relationship. It was a runaway success in the US, and sounds like perfect reading for people who enjoyed The Nowhere Girls.



No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen

October 2018

With proofs just off the press, I am honoured to be one of the first people to read No Fixed Address. Of all the books we spoke about, it wasn’t the book I immediately gravitated towards, but I can’t get the protagonist out of my head. Chloe Sackur did a great job of discussing the story’s relevance in the modern world.

Felix Knutsson lives with his mom in a van. Mom swears it is temporary, but the months tick by and they are still in the van. How long can Felix hide homelessness from his friends?



Julia Gray

Little Liar – Julia Gray

June 2018

Nora has a tale to tell, but not everyone will believe it. Not only is she a great actor, she is a proficient liar who likes to push the boundaries.

Julia Gray spoke about how teens take on aspects of other people’s personalities. Nora is not a nice character, but she sounds like an interesting one. As a child one of my favourite books was The Tulip Touch by Anne Fine. This is the story of a girl who is a bit too good at lying, and the friend who gets sucked into her world. Little Liar sounds similar. Characters don’t have to be nice to be interesting.




The Lost Witch – Melvin Burgess

August 2018

Melvin Burgess is – as the publicity material suggests – the Godfather of YA. I had the pleasure of studying Junk as part of the children’s literature module of my degree. It was the first book for teens which showed drug use in a realistic way.

The Lost Witch is about Bea, a witch who is being hunted and doesn’t know who to trust. Should she listen to the people who tell her she is in danger? What is their agenda? Fans of The Wren Hunt look no further. Folk-traditions meets contemporary thriller. It sounds fantastic.



Monsters by Sharon Dogar

February 2019

This was doubly-exciting. After getting over the excitement of hearing about a book due out in 2019, I learned that the story is about the teenage years of Mary (Wollstonecraft) Shelley. Romanticism is one of my favourite periods of literary history, not least because the lives of its leading figures were fascinating.

Monsters is about the male figures who surround and manipulate Mary, and the influence this might have had on the themes of Frankenstein. I intend to do some serious rereading ahead of Monsters, and look forward to reading a proof copy in the autumn.


Huge thanks to Harriet Dunlea for organising this event, and to everyone at Andersen for your time, courtesy and for sharing your fantastic fiction with us.


Blog Tour: A Secret Sisterhood by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney


Literary friendships between male writers are well-documented: the companionship of Wordsworth and Coleridge, for example, and the rivalry between Shelley and Lord Byron. Until recently women were thought to be incapable of serious literary endeavours. Those who succeeded were often described through stereotypes – Jane Austen the conservative maiden aunt, for example, or Virginia Woolf the depressive. Their friendships were often viewed with disdain. The influence of males on their work was more likely to be recorded than that of other women.

Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeny, themselves friends and writers, set out to redress the balance by looking at the closest female friendships of four writers. Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, George Elliot and Virginia Woolf.

Jane Austen’s friendship with Anne Sharp was edited out of her life history by her relatives. Maybe this was because it was seen as inappropriate that a woman of Austen’s social class would mix with a governess, but there is possibly more to the story. The main source of information comes from a child’s diary. Certain details, such as why Anne’s employment was abruptly terminated, are not available. Although I was intrigued by the idea of Anne, details about her friendship with Austen never got beyond their shared love of writing and the dates at which they crossed paths.

The influence of the Bronte siblings on each-other’s works is well known, but the popular myth of Charlotte Bronte as part of this tight-knit group of siblings has overshadowed the influence of her schoolfriend. It was Mary Taylor who encouraged Bronte to persue a path which would allow her more time for writing. Taylor also suggested that Bronte use her writing to challenge the political status-quo. Taylor’s own work, not published until later on in life, was ahead of its time in its exploration of women’s lives.

George Eliot and Harriet Beecher Stowe were both established literary figures when their correspondence began. While Eliot was honoured to correspond with Beecher Stowe, their differences in political and religious temperament came between them. Nevertheless, they respected the other’s literary opinions, and tempered their own personalities because of their friendship. These friends were shaped by their differences as much as their similarities.

The friendship between Woolf and Mansfield was the only friendship I had come across prior to reading A Secret Sisterhood. I was pleased to see their competitiveness re-examined. Whatever they thought of each other, Woolf and Mansfield acknowledged each other’s ability.

A Secret Sisterhood is written in an intelligent and engaging style. The section on Austen is padded out with general detail about the author’s lives, but I was still interested to know about Anne Sharp. The other three sections are concise and informative. I am pleased to see female literary friendships given a study of their own. It is clear from the details about the author’s own lives that they understand the difference between a friendship and a literary friendship, and that they know the joys and trials which can come of offering each other criticism. I would recommend this to anybody with an interest in writing or literature. It would make a lovely present between friends.

Thanks to Arum Press and the authors for my copy of A Secret Sisterhood. Opinions my own.

Young Adult Reviews

To Kill A Kingdom by Alexandra Christo



My mother would deny me the heart of a prince, but the heart of a prince would be enough to erase any bad feelings between us. I could continue with my legacy, and the Queen would no longer have to worry about our kind being hunted. If I do this, we would both get what we want.

(To Kill A Kingdom by Alexandra Christo. PP. 50-51.) 


Lira has a heart for every year she has been alive. Every year on her birthday, she kills another prince and stashes their heart in her chest. When she saves a prince from being killed by a mermaid, Lira is transformed into a human in punishment. The only way to win back the trust of her mother, the Sea Queen, is to kill the Prince Elian and deliver his heart ahead of the Winter Solstice.

Prince Elian would rather be a captain than a king. He roams the seas in his ship, the Saad, killing sirens to rid the world of their threat. When he saves Lira from drowning, he knows there is more to her than meets the eye. Could she be the key to helping him destroy siren-kind for good? Can he trust her? Can she trust him? How many deals will Elian have to make before he can face the Sea Queen?birdReview:

To Kill A Kingdom imagines sirens and mermaids in all their bloody glory. It makes many references to Disney’s The Little Mermaid, but you won’t find friendly fish and singing lobsters here. Instead there is murder, revenge and hate-to-love romance.

The story is told in a dual-narrative. Both Lira and Elian narrate. This worked well and allowed us to see the same kingdoms through different eyes. My favourite part was the world-building. There is a city made of gold, a ship where a teenage prince plays at being a captain and an ice-kingdom which perpetrates its own myths to ensure a loyal following. Sounds good? If you like fairy tales you will enjoy this for the world alone.

I enjoyed the plot, particularly Lira’s transformation from a girl who would do anything her mother wanted into a young woman who thinks people should give their respect freely. Although this was fantasy, it made some very serious comments about emotionally manipulative parents. It reminded me of The Sin Eater’s Daughter in this respect.

There is also an emphasis on finding your own people. Elian would rather pick his crew than be forced to live the life he was born into. This is one of those novels where even the minor characters feel totally real. There is Madrid, the only female pirate, and Kye the fiercely-protective friend who hates it when the prince writes him off as a body-guard. The crew are loyal to Elian, and slow to trust Lira. 

This is already proving popular, and I enjoyed it for the world alone. It is a strong first novel which makes a good interpretation of an existing fairy tale. I look forward to hearing more from Christo.


Thanks to Hot Key Books and Readers First for my copy. Opinions my own.


Middle Grade Reviews

A Witch Alone by James Nicol



If she went to find the book she would see Estar, perhaps. Maybe even see Erraldur, the feyling city. And she couldn’t expect others to go in her place. She was the only one able to read from the book, so how could they hope someone else would be able to find it?

(A Witch Alone by James Nicol. P68.) 


During an eventful holiday in Kingsport, Arianwyn is given a secret mission by the High Elder. She must venture into the Great Wood and bring back the Book of Quiet Glyphs. Arianwyn returns to Lull to find it in chaos. The hex which caused trouble during her training has spread. Spirit Creatures and Feylings have been driven from their woodland home towards Lull. As tensions cause Arianwyn’s support network to deteriorate, she must confront her mission alone and learn the truth about the Book of Quiet Glyphs.  



James Nicol’s writing is refreshing. It is exactly what middle grade should be, full of lemon cakes and magic and moon hares. I love the progression between books one and two. Arianwyn has got her star badge, but her magical education is not at an end. Her adventures are only just beginning.

Newly qualified Arianwyn needs to believe that she deserves her badge. She thinks that being a qualified witch means she should be able to solve everything alone. This is exacerbated when she is forced to keep her mission from her best friend and confidant Salle. I loved Salle’s development, as she searches for her own place in life and learns to see herself as something more than Arianwyn’s sidekick.

This story was very relatable. Arianwyn does not receive the training and emotional support she needs from Miss Newman or The High Elder. Miss Newman’s character was developed brilliantly. We have all met that person who thinks they are a cut above others because they are in a managerial position. The mentor who gives snippy comments and criticism, but no advice.

I love this world of Snotlings and moon hares and magical voids. There is just enough danger to keep things interesting, but not so much that a young reader would get overwhelmed. The war is happening far away and there is a sense of political agendas playing out the the Witch’s Council, but this not the main story. Our main concern is Arianwyn and her friends, and their adventures in Lull. The main themes are friendship and self-confidence.

Gimma’s return made a fantastic sub-plot. I love the fact that she is given a second chance in Lull, and that the other characters learn to see beyond the events of book one. This is a very positive message of forgiveness and the fact that we all make mistakes and get things wrong.

The ending set the story up for a sequel and I can see this developing into a longer series. This is a very strong second book and I look forward to Arianwyn’s return.


Louise Nettleton

Thanks to Chicken House Books and Jazz B for my copy of A Witch Alone. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Kaya’s Heart Song by Diwa Tharan Sanders

heartsongbanner.jpgimg_5015 With increasing pressure on children to achieve good results, maintain friendships and to grow up in a world of non-stop information, it is important to teach them the importance of relaxation and living in the moment. It is also important for children to make the link between relaxation and increased happiness. 

img_5076When Mama hums it helps her to relax. She calls it her heart song. Humming helps her to move into a state of awareness known as mindfulness. Kaya sets off in search of her own heart song. Along the way she helps Pak to reawaken the magical elephant carousel. The reader is encouraged to find their own heart song through play and adventure. A message at the back gives some additional information about mindfulness. 

The artwork is beautiful. Jewel-bright elephants and flowers stand out against a calming green background. The pictures, like the text, encourage a state of calm. 

A couple of reviews have suggested that this would be too abstract for the youngest picture book readers, but I don’t think that is the case. The reader may not understand the concept of mindfulness when it is explained to them, but they can explore the difference between calm and excitement. 

img_5078Lantana’s mission is to redress the balance seen in publishing so that children of all nationalities see themselves represented in fiction. Representation goes beyond skin colour – imagine if the food you ate or the words you used were never shown in fiction. Kaya’s Heart Song is set in Malaysia and shows children from different backgrounds together on the carousel. 

A beautiful addition to any bookshelf, and a great resource for mindfulness and relaxation. 


Thank you to Lantana Publishing for sending a copy of the book. Opinions my own.

Louise Nettleton.