blog tour · Middle Grade Reviews

Blog Tour: The International Yeti Collective by Paul Mason. Illustrated by Katy Riddell.

Blog Tour: The International Yeti Collective by Paul Mason. Illustrated by Katy Riddell.

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Extract:

‘But now there were only nineteen left and the story behind that was drummed into every youngling. How one of Earth Mother’s children abandoned her slabs – the one called human. And now, many cycles later, she didn’t even look like a yeti at all.’ 

(The International Yeti Collective by Paul Mason. P16.) 

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Synopsis:

Ella is on an expedition in the Himalayas with her Uncle Jack, a television explorer. When they set out, Ella thought the goal was to shoot a nature documentary, but it soon becomes clear that the trip is centered around the question of whether or not yeti exist – and it seems Uncle Jack’s intentions are not entirely honorable. 

Tick is a young Yeti whose questions keep leading him to trouble. When he leads the documentary party to the door of the cave, his sett is forced to abandon their home, leaving the ancient Yeti slabs behind. 

If the slabs are deciphered, it could endanger Yeti all over the world, which would be a disaster for the ecosystem, of which Yeti are the guardians. Can Tick and Ella overcome their fears of one another and work together to recover the slabs before it is too late? 

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Review:

Imagine if the ecosystem had a network of secret guardians, whose role was pivotal for the survival of the planet. Welcome to The International Yeti Collective – the fantasy story of the year, and an idea which you will wish could be true. In this story, those guardians are under threat, and with them the wellbeing of our planet. 

Enter Tick – a hapless but loveable Yeti, and Ella. Like the very real children who give up their spare time to raise awareness of the issues faced by our planet, Ella is a small person with shedloads of determination. She doesn’t always realise this, but just by being decent and having the right ideas she is well ahead of many of the grown-ups around her. 

Environmental themes are long overdue in children’s fiction. Teaching children the science is important so that they understand the stark choice humanity must face, but teaching them a love for the planet and a determination to help is even more important. Their generation may be the very last with a say in this issue because if we don’t act in the next few years, it will simply be too late to make any meaningful change. What I love about The International Yeti Collective is its heart. It is a great, entertaining story, but it also shows how much empathy with our fellow creatures means. 

This is also a story with tribes – and we all love a good tribe, faction, house or another fictional sorting. The different Yeti tribes live around the world and care for different aspects of the eco-system. I am torn between four or five tribes, based on places and creatures I love, and activities I might be good at. In this instance there is no ‘better’ tribe because the key here is balance – every one of these natural places needs help, and the more we can do the better. 

As part of the blog tour, I was given a beautiful map that shows the locations of the different Yeti tribes. It also comes with a handy guide explaining real-world issues these tribes are facing today. 

 

Lou Nettleton - Yeti Map

Lou Nettleton - Yeti Tribes 1

Lou Nettleton - Yeti Tribes 2

Lou Nettleton - Yeti Tribes 3

Lou Nettleton - Yeti Tribes 4

 

Thanks to Little Tiger Press for inviting me to take part in this promotional blog tour, and for my copy of the book. Opinions my own.

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blog tour · Middle Grade Reviews

Blog Tour: The Ghouls Of Howlfair by Nick Tomlinson.

Blog Tour: The Ghouls Of Howlfair by Nick Tomlinson.

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Extract:

‘The town motto?’ said Molly. ‘I think so. It’s only a short motto, but it’s in code, and to crack the code you need to understand about five different mythologies. I had to read about fifty books.’

‘So what does it mean?’

‘It means If Howlfair falls, the whole world falls.

(The Ghouls Of Howlfair by Nick Tomlinson. P29.)

 

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Synopsis:

The Howlfair tourist board would like everyone to believe it is the spookiest place around, and nobody is buying it, but behind the painted boards and the funny costumes, something seriously creepy is lurking.

Molly Thompson is forever in trouble. The last thing she needs on her hands is another investigation. Then an elderly lady dies at the guest home where Molly lives, and her ghost leaves a message which Molly can’t ignore. Howlfair is in trouble from an evil which is set to rise.

Together with her friend Lowry, Molly sets out to uncover the mysteries of her local town against the backdrop of a Mayoral election. The only trouble is everyone and everything is starting to look suspicious.

A seriously spooky mystery adventure.

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Review:

Imagine a sleepy little tourist town where trouble is brewing. This setting had me hooked because it reminded me straight away of Penelope Lively’s middle-grade novels. Little places which are easy to forget, mind-numbingly boring to grow up in … and crammed with history and stories. That is what I love most about The Ghouls Of Howlfair. As well as uncovering something spooky, the main character Molly realises how rich Howlfair is in hidden legends.

I love it when mystery stories include fantasy or supernatural elements. In the past couple of years, there have been two or three stories that have done this well, and I am always excited to see a merge of genres. In Howlfair, most people think the spooky stories are past their sell-by date, but Molly is a budding historian and she knows there is truth in some of the old records.

Molly investigates everything, but she isn’t classically brave. She’s bookish and awkward and loves her cat Gabriel more than anyone in the world. I loved having a character who wasn’t an obvious hero. In real life, we all have different traits and personalities, but we are all capable of making different choices and rising to the occasion. All the characters in this story felt realistic, and this made them more memorable.

With Halloween coming up, lots of people will be looking for a scary story. This was honestly more frightening than I thought, with seriously creepy ghouls and very casual references to death and the macabre. The storyline itself is hilariously fun, and the backdrop of the sleepy town balances out the scary to make for a brilliant tale. I can see this being popular with humans, ghouls, ghosts, and monsters as Halloween approaches. Just be warned – read this with the light on!

 

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Thanks to Walker Books UK for inviting me to take part in this promotional blog tour. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Trouble In New York by Sylvia Bishop. Illustrated by Marco Guadalupi.

Review: Trouble In New York by Sylvia Bishop. Illustrated by Marco Guadalupi.

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Extract:

His first scoop. He carefully folded the note and placed it back on the desk, before putting his fingers on the keys of the typewriter and hammering out

By Jamie Creeden

It looked just as good as he had always imagined it would. 

(Trouble In New York by Sylvia Bishop. P42.)

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Synopsis:

Paperboy Jamie Creeden loves the news. His biggest dream is to be a reporter for the Morning Yorker. He is given a chance to visit the paper’s offices, and on the same day the paper reports an actress missing. Jamie sees his chance to investigate and is drawn into a world of underground criminals and strange events.

Together with Eve, whose family owns the Morning Yorker, and Rose, whose father has been affected by recent events, Jamie tries to solve the mystery before another journalist takes his scoop.

Will Jamie still want to be a reporter when he uncovers the truth?

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Review:

I recently read The Secret Of The Night Train, Sylvia Bishop’s middle-grade mystery published in 2018, and fell in love with her playful yet intelligent style. It was a pleasure to have her latest novel to hand, and I am impressed with how she has built a mystery around a topic issue. Set in the 1960s, at a time when television news is causing a threat to print journalism for the first time, Trouble In New York is a mystery with themes that are relevant in the present day.

Jamie is a great character – he is driven so much by his interests and ambition to become a reporter that at times he forgets all else. He wants to be a good friend, and his morals are in the right place, but getting to a story before adult journalists and winning a competition for young reporters is the central focus of his life. He has read The Morning Yorker every day for practically as long as he can remember. He would trust every word it says.

A trip to the offices suggests things aren’t as rosy and brilliant as they first seem. The workers in the office are male, white and from the same privelleged backgrounds. They think it is a good joke that a paperboy can imagine himself in the same role, and their interest in journalistic values only reaches as far as their next pay packet. It is one of these slacking journalists who gives Jamie his chance to investigate a real story. Except doing so puts Jamie into a whole lot of danger – and also puts him on the scent of a real story.

The trio of main characters has a wonderful dynamic as a group. They each have strengths and flaws in their personalities, and it feels as though the writer has had huge fun writing the different characters’ responses to the same situations. All three are faced with questions about their futures – Eve is expected to live up to family values and expectations, Rose wants to be a firefighter to prove she can be brave, and Jamie reckons he would do anything to become a reporter. Their learning and growth are wonderful, and they make a great team.

This will feed the appetite of mystery readers, while the deeper questions the book explores make it a good choice for readers who are less familiar with the genre. The trio of memorable characters would make this a fabulous first in a series, although Sylvia Bishop has written so well in different settings that I look forward to finding out where her next story is set.  

 

Thanks to Scholastic LTD for my copy of Trouble In New York. Opinions my own.

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Under Earth by Ellen Renner

Review: Under Earth by Ellen Renner

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Extract:

‘He’ll try to dazzle you with riches and promises! Keep your wits about you, Niece, and meet me in the Merry Whale in a five-day when the sun is six hands risen above the sea.’ (Under Earth by Ellen Renner. P29.)

 

Synopsis:

Storm’s duties as a Weather witch are getting real. She must give up her identity as a female, sail with the fleet and remain loyal to Yanlin. Her first big test turns out to be the trading island of Bellum. Bellum’s wealth is tightly controlled by a collective called the Pact, who shower Storm with gifts and attention, but it is apparent that the Pact want something of Storm’s powers in return.

The more Storm sees of Bellum Town, the more questions she has. Why are there children in poverty when there is so much wealth on the island? Why are there no local artisans? And what does the Salamander – the great, god-like spirit of fire which wants her dead – have in store for Storm?

As Storm pieces together the evidence, she learns more about her own magic. About the reason she was chosen by the other three Elementals.

 

Review:

Under Earth follows on from Storm Witch, a middle-grade fantasy which won my love in 2018. Storm lives in a world where great god-like beings rule over earth, air, water and fire. Three of these Elementals have chosen storm for a mission. The fourth, the Salamander of Fire, has tried to kill her – and will try again as it tries to upset the balance of the world and gain power. Storm knows she has been chosen as a Weather witch but not why. This story follows her as she comes to terms with what she must accept and sacrifice in order to fulfill her role.

It also introduces a new part of the world. Bellum Island is one of the wealthiest nations, yet the majority of its money is hoarded by an elite group of families. Other citizens are barely recognised as such. They are treated as second-rate people. As scavengers and slackers and a complete drain on the island’s resources. What is more, traditional skills are at an all-time low. The island no longer produces things of its own. All of its wealth is in trade. Bellum may be beautiful on the surface, especially to a guest of the Pact, but at its heart, its values are rotten to the core.

Similarities between Bellum and current-day Britain are striking. This book explores political crisis from the angle of trade and international relations, both concepts which too many adults ignore when talking about Brexit and austerity.  While these are deep subjects, they are woven into the story in such a way to provide rich details without slowing the pace. The main question for the readers is will Storm be tempted away from her home in Yanlin? Or forced?

There’s also her ongoing fight with the Salamander. This is something I loved about the series from the start. Think Moana. Think of a sea-based world where knowledge of the Gods remains to varying extents, but where everyone knows the origin stories. That’s Storm’s world too. Fire has always been held in check by Earth, Air and Water, but now it is making a bid for greater power. The consequences, if it breaks free, could destroy the world.

The ending has left me desperate for the next installment. It also linked back to those themes of austerity in a touching way. There is something about Storm which makes her different from every ‘chosen one’ you can think of. I can’t say more without spoilers, but I found this side of the story touching and brilliant.

Under Earth moves the story along while living up to the magic of Storm Witch. I am already waiting to get my hands on the third volume. Great stuff.

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow LTD for my copy of Under Earth. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The House Of Light by Julia Green.

Review: The House Of Light by Julia Green.

The House Of Light

Extract:

He was shivering. His feet were bare. His clothes torn. She was sure he hadn’t eaten for a long time. But he seemed intent on moving the boat. He rocked it back and forth, loosening it from the snow and sand. He lifted it up from one end, and with a deft shove he flipped it right over. He must be much stronger than he looked. He began to push the boat away from the dunes, away from her, down the beach.

(The House Of Light by Julia Green. P32.)

 

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Synopsis:

Bonnie and Granda live quietly together, keeping to themselves and following their own interests in spite of all the regulations and rules from the authorities. One day, Bonnie finds a battered old boat on the beach. When news comes that the Border Guards are searching for a boy, Bonnie decides to find him first.

Ish has travelled a long way. He is cold and hungry and alone in the world. He needs shelter but keeping him safe is a criminal offence. As Bonnie and Ish talk about art and borders and people who pass through the island, Bonnie begins to wonder if there is a place out there where she can be free to live without fear of regulations. Would she be brave enough to search for such light?

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Review:

In a sea of divisions, hatred and narrow ideas, it can be difficult to know where to look for the light. Children are currently faced with news stories about global crises and politicians who shut these out to focus on their own agenda. I remember, as a child, being frightened about what 9/11 meant. Goodness knows how today’s children feel.

This masterful novel offers readers a safe space to think about these issues. It is also a story of empathy and friendship. From the moment I saw the boat, I wanted the owner to find shelter. To find people who cared. Julia Green creates powerful images which draw us in long before we know the details.

Bonnie is aptly named. She lives in a time of tight controls, where obedience and conformity are enforced, but she has been taught other values. About art and empathy and places far away. She drinks the world in, combing beaches and singing with Granda and dreaming of a time when people were free to see other parts of the world. She is a vessel of all the beautiful things which are less valued under the regime she lives in.

Her outlook is beautiful. It offers hope because so long as someone remembers these values, they are not lost. They can return.

This is a novel of our times, but it is also a novel of nature. Of outdoors. Julia Green’s books make me want to get out an explore as much as any nature biography. Her descriptions conjure the setting so well that becomes real, and the story is peppered with facts which would make anyone hungry to explore. Her books remind everyone that nature is miraculous and out there discover.

Although the themes of this story sound bleak, Julia Green is a masterful writer, and the main feelings which the reader would take away are hope. Hope and a sense of wonder at the beautiful things which are out there to find. At the difference one small person can make. This is children’s literary fiction at its finest. A beacon of light and a beautiful story.

 

Thanks to Oxford University Press for my gifted copy of The House Of Light. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews · teen · Young Adult Reviews

Blog tour: Earth Swarm by Tim Hall.

Blog tour: Earth Swarm by Tim Hall.

earth swarm by tim hall

Extract:

Each one was about the size of a small car. And they were clearly metallic – all hard edges and dull gleaming surfaces. Yet at the same time – these machines – they were so lifelike. They flew with an undulating motion, like that of a fly. Their wings were a greenish blur at their sides. Each had a pair of reddish orbs, like compound eyes. 

(Earth Swarm by Tim Hall. P82.) 

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Synopsis:

A swarm of killer drones has descended on London.

Hal Strider wishes his Dad had a little bit more family time. Like any time. But there’s been a lot going on at Starr-Strider Biomimetics, especially since Tony Daeger turned up. That’s when the secret plans began. When the drones attack London, leading to mass evacuation and widespread panic, Hal realises they were built by his father’s company. And now his Dad is nowhere to be found.

Hal and his sister Jess are determined to prove their father’s innocence and to save the city, but they are up against machines which never stop, police officers who don’t want to listen and seven million people in panic. They also have something which the person responsible really wants. Perhaps Hall can figure out the truth with the help of the incredible, free-flying girl Sky, but they are up against a deadly enemy and time is running out.

A spectacular new Sci-Fi series suited to fans of Mortal Engines. 

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Review:

Everyone remembers where they were the day the drones struck.

Although the drones themselves are the stuff of Sci-Fi, the story is made relatable by the atmosphere. A historical news story is breaking, like 9/11 or days after Princess Diana died. The drone attack marks a transition in recent human history. The mass exodus, too, feels very much news footage from recent years although the setting is changed. Now it is Londoners whose homes are under siege. Earth Swarm is the sort of story which asks the reader to face big questions. What would it take to provoke such movement of people in the West? Should Capitalism and the quest for money put humanity at risk?

It is also a compelling adventure.

Even at the start, before we see the drones, Hal Strider’s life seems pretty exciting. He’s a trained pilot whose flying skills would be the envy of most adults. The range of aircraft and gadgets made me think of Thunderbirds. This story begins with a wealthy boy and his techy toys. Hal’s character goes far deeper than that, and his desperate longing to spend more time with his Dad will be relatable to young readers whose parents have no choice but to work overtime.

The drones themselves are like something from a horror film. There are masses of them and nobody knows who is at the controls or what their agenda is. Short passages at the end of some chapters offer the reader a drones-eye view of the action and drip feed information about what the drones are capable of. This increased my anticipation as I was reading the main action because my knowledge of what the drones could do felt incomplete, but I was given enough each time to feel that they were hiding some pretty mega technology.

And it turns out the clue is in the name. SWARM. Emphasis on the WAR.

This is a fast-paced adventure with high stakes, and I am delighted to see a children’s book centered around drone technology. Not so long ago, drones brought UK airports to a halt and raised big questions about how such basic air technology was able to invade the airspace. In my opinion, there are so many grey areas about drones which have yet to be explored, and these grey areas are the perfect place to find stories.

While this is aimed at a teen or older middle-grade audience, it has crossover appeal and huge potential to evolve into a series. The story explores the lengths to which people will go for personal gain, and how increasingly-sophisticated technology is putting us at risk from these individuals. It is also a fast-paced and convincing adventure.

The drones have arrived. Could they be our downfall?

 

Thanks to David Fickling Books for my copy of Earth Swarm. Opinions my own.

Young Adult Reviews

Review: Alex In Wonderland by Simon James Green

Review: Alex In Wonderland by Simon James Green

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Extract:

I could have bought another bag of candyfloss with my last pound instead of wasting it on this massive disappointment. I shook my head, beating myself up about how Wonderland gets you every single time, like everyone who walks in has ‘sucker’ written on their foreheads.

(Alex in Wonderland by Simon James Green. P51.) 

 

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Synopsis:

Socially awkward teenager Alex is used to life being disappointing and he’s resigned himself to another summer of total nothing. Then he gets a job at the local amusement arcade, Wonderland, and makes friends with the kids who work there. He even develops a crush on a boy with the perfect dimples – a boy who is horribly in love with a girl.

Mysterious and threatening notes start appearing around Wonderland, a park which is already under the shadow of debtors. Alex and his friends Ben and Efia start vow to save Wonderland and to bring it into the 21st Century.

Who could be guilty of the notes? Will Alex ever get a boyfriend or is he a lost cause? A hilarious contemporary novel which follows one summer in the life of a teenager.

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Review:

Roll up, roll up for another summer of boredom in a run-down seaside town. At least, that’s what Alex is expecting, but putting himself out there and making friends leads him into an adventure. Albeit an adventure which involves a tatty flamingo suit, a banged head and chasing after another hopelessly unavailable boy.

Alex is the socially awkward kid most bookworms relate to – or remember being. He’s painfully aware of his every mistake, every blunder, and he lives in fear of the next social slip-up. It was lovely to see a book which really explored how it feels to navigate the world in this constant state of fret. Too many YA characters appear impossibly sorted. We’re rooting for Alex to have his moment, but more than that we want him to find the right guy.

The arcade mystery was great fun, with a wide cast of characters who could have been responsible. As equally as I wanted Alex to get his guy, I hoped Wonderland would be saved. Wonderland is very much like Alex. Quirky, mildly embarrassing, and sometimes perceived as ridiculous but a place which has brought many people great happiness. Why would anybody want another identical development, even if it is sleek and attractive?

It is difficult to talk about the mystery solution without too many spoilers, except that it fits too perfectly with the rest of the story. There’s more too it than that, though, and Alex comes away happier and more confident which seemed like the most important thing.

A wonderful summer read which shows how friendship and excitement can be found in the least wonderous of places. Add this to your reading pile and prepare for a wave of nostalgia. Being a teen sucked, but wasn’t it magical? Another hit from talented writer Simon James Green.

 

Thanks to Scholastic UK for my gifted copy of Alex In Wonderland. Opinions my own.