Wednesday, 11 May 2016

New Reviews - May 2016

Picture Books for young children

Don’t Pick Your Nose, Pinocchio!
Written by Steve Smallman
Illustrated by Neil Price
QED   £9.99
ISBN: 978-1784931223
This book is one of a series which takes well-known stories and gives them a health and hygiene twist. Pinocchio is a naughty wooden puppet who just can’t stop picking his nose. This has disastrous consequences one day when his finger is stuffed up a nostril and he lies to his father, Geppeto, who has asked him if he is picking his ‘snout’. Pinocchio’s arm shoots off across the room leaving his poor old father to patch it up. When Mr Cricket unwittingly jumps on to the puppet’s finger and finds himself thrust up the wooden ‘hooter’, it all becomes a bit too much. Mr Cricket convinces him to ‘kick’ the nasty habit and the good fairy turns Pinocchio into a real boy, and they, as everyone knows, never pick their noses! The story is completely nonsensical, but great fun, and bound to get a few laughs from any naughty nose-pickers. Other titles in the series include Rapunzel, Rapunzel, Wash your Hair and Stinky Jack and the Beanstalk.
Richard Monte

School Bus Saves the Day
Written by Peter Bently
Illustrated by Louise Conway
QED   £9.99
ISBN: 978-1784930264
The school bus arrives to take a class of hedgehog children, and their teacher Mr Hodges, to the city to see the sights and the carnival.  Bright and bold illustrations show us the big yellow bus and the class of hedgehogs enjoying the trip, and having a great view of the carnival parade from the bus windows.  But the carnival king and queen are stranded as their float has broken down. The school bus comes to the rescue much to everyone’s delight. At the end we get a clear illustration of the bus, labelled with all its accessories, followed by a few pictures of other kinds of buses. This is a great story for reading aloud and sharing. The pictures are bold enough to be used in a group situation, and the story is a good length – short enough for a quick bedtime story, but also with plenty of scope for embellishment and discussion when time allows.  Full colour pages alternate with smaller coloured illustrations within a generous wide border, and the text is well placed for readability, even on the full colour pages.  Part of the Busy Wheels series, this is an ideal read aloud for young children, and for bus fans!
Liz Dubber

The Prince and the Porker
Written by Peter Bently
Illustrated by David Roberts
Andersen   £11.99
ISBN: 978-1783441082
Pignatius is passing the palace when he spots ten fresh buns cooling on a tray, and decides to eat one. However, before he realises, he has eaten all ten and then decides to sneak into the palace to see if there are any more. When the cook chases him he hides in a bedroom and dresses up in the clothes he finds there. When he gets spotted, to his amazement, they think he is the prince, as he looks just like him. He decides to make the most of this. When the real prince turns up, Pignatius thinks the games is up, but the Prince can see there are great advantages to having someone who can stand in for him at times – like when Aunt Alice comes to visit each week. Peter Bently’s witty and lively rhyme combine with David Roberts’ hilarious illustrations to create a veritable feast of a story. The endpapers, featuring soldiers standing proudly at the beginning and then all of a tumble at the end of the book, also add to the humour of the book, and the richness of the language makes this ideal for reading aloud.
Annie Everall

First Steps in reading for young children

Chu’s First Day at School
Written by Neil Gaiman
Illustrated by Adam Rex
Bloomsbury   £6.99
ISBN: 978-1408847046
Children have all kinds of anxieties on their first day at school. Chu is worried that the other pupils won’t like him. Of course, it all turns out fine for him and he goes home very happily. This is a lovely, funny book that highlights, and deals with, children’s anxieties about their first day school. Chu, the panda, feels all the things that children often feel. The text is clear well laid out and the illustrations are colourful, clear and wonderfully expressive. This is an excellent book for sharing and discussing, especially with children who are about to start school.
Patricia Thompson

Titles for the young child just beginning to Read Alone

Lucy’s Magic Snow Globe
Written by Anne Booth
Illustrated by Sophy Williams
OUP   £4.99
ISBN: 978-0 192743312
Lucy is really looking forward to having her grandmother stay with the family over Christmas, but now extra guests are coming, and Lucy isn’t sure she likes the idea. However, all thoughts of tiresome extra visitors fly out of the window when Lucy finds an injured baby rabbit on the edge of a nearby football field.  Gran, who runs an animal sanctuary, confirms that the rabbit needs time to recover from his injuries and regain his strength, and Lucy is sure she can care for him. The arrival of the visitors, plus a little Christmas magic from Lucy’s snow globe, brings Lucy’s adventure to a satisfying conclusion.  Thoughtful readers will understand, as Lucy finally does, that unexpected developments can often be for the best.
Marianne Adey

Titles for the Confident Reader in Primary School

Prince Frog Face
Written by Kaye Umansky
Illustrated by Ben Whitehouse
Barrington Stoke   £5.99
ISBN: 978-1781124437
In this hilarious retelling of the well-known frog prince story, arrogant and totally selfish Prince Valentine is auditioning for a girlfriend but he is not having very much luck. None of the candidates meet his ultra-high standards. Mrs Sagacity, an old woman who has wandered into the palace gardens, tries to offer some advice on how to behave around young ladies, but, he will not listen. He is quite rude to her and consequently gets changed into an arrogant and selfish frog at the bottom of a well. The laughs continue as he tries to get out of the well and back home. And, in this story, it is not a kiss that returns our hero to his normal princely state. Kaye Umansky’s wicked sense of humour, Ben Whitehouse’s illustrations and the tried and tested Barrington Stoke format make a winning combination. There are also other similar retellings of well-known stories in the series.
Jan Lennon

The Truffle Mouse
Written by Holly Webb
Illustrated by Hannah Whitty
Scholastic   £5.99
ISBN: 978-1407144863
Alice’s Mum and Dad are separated and live in different houses. She is feeling anxious about Dad’s girlfriend, Tara, and Tara’s daughter, Tilly, who are moving in. Will Tilly take her place? Meanwhile at Mum’s house, she is finally allowed to choose a hamster, but once at the pet shop, her eye is caught by a chocolate coloured mouse, that soon comes home with Alice and Mum. Mum is not keen on mice, which makes Alice worried about how Truffle will be when she is away at school and at Dad’s - especially as her mother has a cat. So, Alice hatches a plan to take Truffle with her.  The reading level of this short novel means that children can get a sense of independence and achievement as they work their way through the chapters. It is good to have a story for a younger age group which considers how children feel about living between two homes and the challenges that can bring. Framing these themes in an adventure with a new pet means that this book never becomes bogged down in ‘issues’, but rather moves along at a good pace. We follow Alice to a happy ending, showing how families can rearrange themselves in a way that can include everyone, even little brown mice.
Annalise Taylor

Alice-Miranda Shines Bright
Written by Jacqueline Harvey
Red Fox   £6.99
ISBN: 978-1849418614
Anyone who hasn’t already met the diminutive delights of Alice-Miranda is in for a treat. The tiny boarding-school girl is faced with the mysterious and sudden disappearance of Reginald Parker, a man in his third year of a coma and to whom Alice-Miranda had been reading. While searching for him on her horse, she and Millie discover gold. They promise to keep it secret in order to prevent a gold-rush destroying the countryside, but nothing stops the Mayor from finding out and making his own plans. In this reprint, multiple threads twist and turn to keep the reader guessing until the very end, knowing, somehow, Alice-Miranda will make sure everything turns out for the best. Almost too-good to be true, Alice-Miranda’s warmth and thoughtful approach to life is pure escapist fun, perfect after a long, tiring day at school, or to share before bed.
Benjamin Scott

Titles for readers Moving On from Primary to High School

Look into my Eyes
Written by Lauren Child
HarperCollins   £6.99
ISBN: 978-0007334070
This is a reprint of the first title in the popular series featuring Ruby Redfort, an American teenager who is brilliant at cracking codes.  Spectrum, a top secret intelligence agency, recruit Ruby to be a desk agent but she is not to tell anyone.  Ruby finds it hard to keep the secret from her best friend, Clancy, who is becoming suspicious of the family's new butler, who is really Ruby's new bodyguard.  Meanwhile, there is a plot to steal a valuable Buddha from a local bank and Ruby and Clancy strive to crack the thieves' code. There are many different layers in this book and young people will enjoy cracking the codes along with Ruby, whilst feeling the tension as danger threatens Ruby's life.
Ingrid Fox

Titles for Young Teenage Readers

The Mad Apprentice
Written by Django Wexler
Corgi   £6.99
ISBN: 978-0552568685
In this stunning sequel to The Forbidden Library, Alice, is still learning her craft. Set magical and dangerous tasks by her ancient and powerful Reader, she must use all her wits, and test her courage to the limits, to defeat the increasingly aggressive and unpredictable monsters she encounters, so absorbing to herself the powers of the creatures she masters. Alice is commanded, along with other Readers’ apprentices, to bring back, dead or alive, the rogue apprentice, Jacob, who has, unthinkably, murdered his Reader master. This unenviable task involves Alice, the natural leader of the group, in a horrendous, rolling sequence of battles against nightmarish monsters within a black, boundless labyrinth which constantly changes its configuration. As the terrifying battles rage on, Alice must protect and manage her apprentice group, using every ounce of her will and intellect to summon up creatures and situations to defeat her enemies and so get closer to discovering what caused her father’s death. Heart-stopping, vivid, complex, intelligent and questioning, this novel would make a brilliant film. Young teenage readers will welcome the occasional quiet, reflective stretches in order to unclench their stomach muscles and exhale!
Tina Massey

Titles for More Mature readers

Demon Road
Written by Derek Landy
HarperCollins   £14.99
ISBN: 978-0008140816
This 512 page novel, the first in a new trilogy, has a cover which will immediately draw the reader in. It is packed with terrifying action, witty dialogue, undead serial killers, vampires, killer cars and demons. Amber is sixteen years old, a normal American teenager, albeit with weird parents, until the day she is attacked by two youths outside the diner. Her parents and their friends reveal themselves to be what they really are and Amber is forced to go on the run - away from the very people she thought loved and cared for her. The opening sentence of the book sets the scene, " Twelve hours before Amber Lamont's parents tried to kill her..." The book is fast and scary but will be enjoyed by all teenagers and fans of Derek Landy.  This is real horror story, a head under the duvet storyline, with the sequel out next year.
Ingrid Fox

Information Titles

How Many Greeks Can You Fit Inside a Horse?
Written by Chris Mitchell
John Blake   £5.99
ISBN: 978-1784186548
A talking T-Rex, Dr Dino, might not be the obvious choice to explore “bizarre stories of ridiculous gods”, but this disbelieving dinosaur narrator does cleverly present a funny and engaging collection of international myths and legends. The legends are told within the context of their national identity, from the legend of St. George for the English to how the Maori explained the birth of New Zealand. Some tales are quite gruesome, like the skinless horse-man of Orkney, while others are fascinating, like why the Aztecs believed they were helping the gods with their human sacrifices. This superb and short overview of a wide range of cultural beliefs and stories will kick start the imagination of young readers. Part of the Dr Dino’s Learnatorium series that includes more scientific topics, such as Do Astronauts Wee in Space?
Benjamin Scott

Will’s Words
Written by Jane Sutcliffe
Illustrated by John Shelley
ISBN: 978-1580896382
This lavishly illustrated information picture book provides a distinctive and entertaining approach to introducing Shakespeare to a young audience.  Each double page spread is deployed to both conjure up the atmosphere of London theatre -going in Shakespeare’s time as well as examining well known words and phrases whose origin can be discovered in his plays. The left hand side of each page cleverly incorporates the expressions into the description of an aspect of life at the Globe theatre, while the right hand side contains scrolls which explain the terms and locates them in the plays. Amongst the varied colourful phrases included are, “Eaten out of house and home”, “Wild-goose chase” and “cold-blooded”. However it is the intricate and wonderfully observed illustrations that set this book apart. Readers of all ages will delight in the various depictions of theatre goers at the Globe and the birds-eye view of London. A lovely title to have on your shelves.
Elaine Chant

Thursday, 29 October 2015

New reviews. Autumn/Winter 2015. 100s more in issue 61!

Picture Books for young children


Kipper’s Beach Ball

Written and illustrated by Mick Inkpen

Hodder (R)   £6.99

ISBN: 978-1444924022

First published in 2003, this new edition forms part of Kipper’s 25 year celebrations. The story sees Kipper finding something colourful and wrinkly in his cornflakes, but he has no idea what it is. He goes round to Tiger’s house to share his excitement. Tiger has already collected the other toys in the series so decides it must be the ball, but it doesn’t look or behave like a ball - then the adventure starts. Mick Inkpen manages to portray all the emotions from excitement to disappointment to optimism on the faces of Kipper and Tiger – another triumph.

Bev Archer


Fish is Fish

Written and illustrated by Leo Lionni

Andersen (R)   £6.99

ISBN: 978-1783441570

Originally published in 1970, this simple story of friendship and being true to oneself will still appeal to young readers and listeners. The illustrations are reminiscent of a subdued Eric Carle, with what appear to be pencil and crayon drawings evoking the world of Fish and Tadpole, with rubbings creating textured backdrops. Of course, tadpoles don’t stay tadpoles for long and soon Fish’s friend has transformed and left the pond to see the world. Fish is confused at first, and then alone. But, Frog returns to share his adventures with his friend. Children will enjoy seeing how Fish pictures the creatures that Frog tells him about - birds, cows and humans - all variations of fish in Fish’s mind. Fish’s attempt to leave the pond, his rescue by Frog and his return to his own habitat, help him appreciate the beauty of the world he lives in. The story also shows readers the difference between fish and amphibians, and something of the process of metamorphosis.

Annalise Taylor

First Steps in reading for young children

The Princess and the Pony

Written and illustrated by Kate Beaton

Walker   6.99

ISBN: 978-1406365382

In the kingdom of warriors Princess Pinecone, by far the smallest, craves a warrior horse for her birthday. For previous birthdays she has received cosy sweaters so, in an attempt to indulge her warrior ambitions, her somewhat unimaginative parents, buy her a horse. It is, however, not the horse of her dreams but a squat, sausage of a pony with divergent eyes. When put through its warrior paces in preparation for the great battle, it fails on all necessary equine skills. Then, in the midst of battle, the mighty Otto the Awful, bearing down on pony and princess, is stopped in his tracks by the pony’s cuddly, heart-melting adorability and cuteness. Instantly hostilities are subdued as the warriors queue to pet and stroke the little steed. Cuddly sides now exposed, all are eager to embrace the changed corporate identity and each warrior wears one of the surplus sweaters from the princess’s birthday store. Kate Beaton’s comic-style talents are well exemplified in this unusual book that glories in the art of eloquent gesture and facial expression. In addition to the intrinsic humour, readers also learn that victory can come in unexpected and benign ways.

Catriona Nicholson


 Titles for the young child just beginning to Read Alone

Lottie and Dottie Sow Sunflowers

Written by Claire Burgess

Illustrated by Marijke Van Veldhoven

Orion (eB)   £4.99

ISBN: 978-1444014693

A welcome addition to this popular series of Early Readers, Lottie and Dottie decide to enter the Sunflower Competition and we follow their journey from seed to flower, with a few hiccups along the way. With handy advice at the end on growing your own sunflower (and keeping off the snails!), this is an appealing title. Full colour illustrations on every page guide the reader through the story, providing support for reading and enhancing the story by adding emotion and detail. Text is appropriate for the audience and accessible with plenty of dialogue. With lots to talk about when sharing with an adult, this is a useful title for classroom book boxes and libraries.

Lucy Russell


Written and illustrated by Chris Judge

Andersen (eB)   £6.99

ISBN: 978-1783441631

Tin’s Mum asks him to look after his little sister, Nickel, for the afternoon. Just as he is enjoying his comic book for a few minutes, he notices that Nickel is at the top of a tree, chasing a balloon. An exciting adventure unfolds as Nickel tries to rescue his sister. Detailed, colourful illustrations make this Irish import a real pleasure to share with a young audience.

Marianne Adey


The Enchanted Wood

Written by Enid Blyton

Illustrated by Mark Beech

Egmont   £14.99

ISBN: 978-1405276658

The children are excited to be moving from the town to the countryside. As they explore their new home they are amazed to discover an enchanted wood and a magic tree near their house. This leads them into many adventures as they meet the weird and wonderful folk who live there and visit new lands at the top of the tree. The 1940 edition I read as a child had a single colour plate at the front and line drawings throughout, very different from this brightly coloured, much illustrated new deluxe gift edition. Some changes have been made to the text to update the story. Jo, Bessie and Fanny are now Joe, Beth and Frannie, Dame Slap is now Dame Snap and Joe now makes sandwiches instead of just bringing in radishes from the garden. There are also three additional chapters about the children’s adventures in the Land of Toys. None of these changes, however, can alter the imaginative characters, the exciting lands and adventures contained in this book. I enjoyed it every bit as much this time, as the many times I read it as a child.

Sue Wilsher

Titles for the Confident Reader in Primary School


The Rats of Meadowsweet Farm

Written by Dick King-Smith

Illustrated by Victor Ambrus

Barrington Stoke   £6.99

ISBN: 978-1781124178

Farmer Green is a bit of a slapdash farmer. His farm is pretty mucky, especially the huge muck heap in the middle of the yard. As muck heaps go, it was truly magnificent. The happiest animals on the farm are the rats, for they love the muck heap and they also love the fact that Farmer Green never, ever, puts his grain or his seeds or his animal feed into metal bins. The rats chew their way into the sacks and eat and eat as much as they want. The chief rat, known as Ripper the King Rat, runs his rat empire with no interference at all from Farmer Green, until one day Farmer Green kills some of his best workers. Ripper is not pleased and plots his revenge! The battle for Meadowsweet Farm is hard, but, who wins? Read the book and see! It is a humorous book, but the humour is quite dark at times. Very enjoyable.

Patricia Thompson


Wilf the Mighty Worrier Saves the World

Written by Georgia Pritchett

Illustrated by Jamie Littler

Quercus (eB)   £6.99

ISBN: 978-1848668614

Wilf spends his life worrying about so many things; his list of things to worry about is pretty long. However, when a new neighbour called Alan arrives he has even more to worry him. Alan tells him that he is the most evil man on earth and his intention is to destroy the world, with the help of his side-kick, Kevin Phillips and his robot, Mark III. Can Wilf stop him or should he just hide under the bed and worry? This is a wonderful book, very funny and very fast moving.

Patricia Thompson

Titles for readers Moving On from Primary to High School


Where I Belong

Written by Tara White

Tradewind   £7.95

ISBN: 978-1896580777

Carrie is constantly questioning her identity and her feeling that something isn’t right. Adopted as a young child, she has never felt that she belongs and, tormented by recurring dreams, she is sure someone close to her is in danger. Then she meets Tommy, the boy from her dreams, and everything changes. Although quite short, this is a powerful story about a girl who feels she does not fit in, but has the courage to find her roots and, ultimately, come to accept both worlds. Set in Canada, details of Mohawk life, traditions and beliefs are successfully conveyed, particularly through the character of Gramma, depicting a strong culture and sense of community. Although set against the backdrop of real events, racism and cultural tension are secondary to the sense of belonging and self-discovery. Gramma’s dignity and her words, “Keep your head up, Carrie. Be proud of who you are.” speak volumes. The reader is left full of hope for Carrie’s future; one in which she manages to be part of both cultures and both families.

Sue Wilsher

Titles for Young Teenage Readers


Dumb Chocolate Eyes

Written by Kevin Brooks

Illustrated by Emma Shoard

Barrington Stoke   £6.99

ISBN: 978-1781124512

This novella describes an imperfect friendship between two boys, basically bored with each other, but unwilling to make the effort to find anyone more compatible. One of them, Pete Cassidy, decides to trap some invading rats in his huge, unkempt garden. The other, who tells this story, goes along with the plan only to recoil in disgust when it all goes wrong. Illustrated in splashy water-colours, this very short story still manages to create a strong atmosphere, with Pete Cassidy’s large, untidy house having something in common with the rats’ nests he was out to destroy. With never a word wasted, and a typically Kevin Brooks bleak ending, this story stays in the mind long after it is finished.

Nicholas Tucker


Titles for More Mature readers


The Year It All Ended

Written by Kirsty Murray

Allen & Unwin   £6.99

ISBN: 978-1743319413

It is Adelaide, Australia, and four sisters and their family celebrate the end of WW1. It is also Tiney’s seventeenth birthday. The town bells are ringing and everyone is rejoicing that they have peace at last. They can look forward to the return of their friends, sons, brothers and husbands, as Armistice is celebrated. But, as the months pass, and the girls face new challenges, embarking on different journeys, they also have to face the truth that many of their menfolk will not be returning from France. Tiney is determined to go to Europe and see for herself where her brother and friends lost their lives. Her sister, Nette, is learning about being a wife and mother and struggling to make a new life with her soldier husband. Meanwhile, Minna leaves to find independence, and artistic Thea has tragedy of her own with which to contend. The sisters are strong, different characters and roundly portrayed, whilst the atmosphere of Australia in 1918 is colourful and interesting. This is an entertaining novel and each girl’s story is engaging.

Louise Stothard

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

New reviews - June 2015

Picture Books for young children

This is My Rock

Written and illustrated by David Lucas

Flying Eye   £11.99

ISBN: 978-1909263505

Little Goat feels proud. He is on top of the rock and he certainly doesn’t plan to share being there with the smaller goats, or the other animals that come climbing his way, or the birds that fly to it. But as the sun goes down he begins to have second thoughts. Bold and stylish illustrations, with very little text, make this book perfect to share with a young audience. A story about sharing, friendship and loneliness, with plenty to talk about. 

Marianne Adey


I Wish I’d Been Born a Unicorn

Written by Rachel Lyon

Illustrated by Andrea Ringli

Maverick Arts   £6.99

ISBN: 978-1848861176

A delightful story about the true nature of friendship. Mucky is a muddy, grubby horse, and he feels very sad and left out when the other horses don’t want to play with him because he is so smelly. But, clever owl steps in and hatches a plan. With the assistance of some cows and a frog, and using milk to paint Mucky white and a shell for a horn, he is transformed overnight into a beautiful unicorn. But, it starts to rain! Only then does Mucky discover that his true friends really don’t mind what he looks like, but care more about how he feels, which the wise owl had already tried to tell him. Using fresh colours and boldly drawn figures, with wonderfully expressive eyes, the story is illustrated sympathetically A lovely book to share with toddlers and preschoolers alike.

Lucy Russell

The Scarecrows’ Wedding

Written by Julia Donaldson

Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

Alison Green   £12.99

ISBN: 9781-407144412

An endearing tale of perseverance, collaboration and loyalty, The Scarecrows’ Wedding is the latest offering from the dream team that brought us such contemporary classics as The Gruffalo, Stick Man and Room on the Broom. Bursting with all the warmth and character we have come to expect from Axel Scheffler’s illustrations, the story follows two scarecrows, deeply in love as they prepare for their wedding, with the help of various animals around the farm, including, rather eccentrically, a crab. Tension builds as the bridegroom to be, Harry O’Hay, sets off to find some flowers for the bouquet, leaving his bride, Betty O’Barley, waiting back at the farm. Harry’s journey takes longer than expected and a new, somewhat swaggering scarecrow, Reginald Rake, tries to take his place. Will Betty be wooed by Reginald’s charms? Will Harry make it back to claim his beloved bride? My three year old took great delight in the clever and witty rhymes that keep the compelling story bouncing along, and both of us enjoyed the satisfaction of a happy and romantic ending.

Rowan Stanfield

First Steps in reading for young children


Rita’s Rhino

Written and illustrated by Tony Ross

Andersen   £11.99

ISBN: 978-1783440252

Rita wants a pet, but her Mum refuses to get her one. So, Rita decides to go and get one for herself, from the Zoo. She decides on a rhinoceros. But keeping a pet rhino secret isn’t an easy thing to do and taking care of him proves to be a lot harder than she anticipated. Tony Ross excels at blending the absurd with the normality of the everyday and, as usual, it works really well. The idea of Rita sneaking a rhino unnoticed out of the zoo, covered up with a small hat and coat to hide him from observant eyes, is deliciously funny. The joys and difficulties of owning a pet are explored in a fresh and original way. Full of wit, the illustrations work well with the text, adding additional humour to the tale and providing a story which children will love to read and adults will love to share with them.

Annie Everall

Titles for the young child just beginning to Read Alone

The Witch Dog

Written by Margaret Mahy

Illustrated by Sam Usher

Orion (eB)   £4.99

ISBN: 978-1444011340

Question: How does a witch cope if she is allergic to cats? Answer: Get a dog! Mrs. Rose has trained to be a witch, having just finished her course at night school. Now that she is fully qualified she can attend the Witches’ Dance and take her newly found dog, Nightshade, with her. Unfortunately, when she arrives at the dance, the cats and owls owned by the other witches were not at all pleased to see a dog arrive. However Nightshade has an unexpected talent. This is a very unusual book. The idea that anybody’s Mum can go to night school and become a witch is quite a strange starting point for a story. It is a lovely book, with a strong storyline and is fun to read. The text is clear and the illustrations are very amusing and perfectly match the text.

Patricia Thompson

Asterix and the Picts

Written by Jean-Yves Ferri

Illustrated by Didier Conrad

Orion (eB)   £7.99

ISBN: 978-1444011692

As a child reader I devoured the Asterix graphic novels/comic books and they helped me gain reading confidence and stamina. Jean-Yves Ferri and Didier Conrad take on the mantle from Goscinny and Uderzo in this the thirty-fifth adventure for Asterix and Obelix. This time, our favourite Gauls are off to Caledonia, the land of the Picts; what we now recognise as Scotland. After being washed up frozen on the shores of Gaul, MacAroon needs help to return home and rescue his beloved. With magic potion, plenty of eating and drinking, and a little help from the Loch Ness monster, Asterix and Obelix help defeat the Roman threat in Scotland and put a stop to the evil machinations of the  MacCabees tribe. Aside from the expressive and often funny illustrations, the accompanying text is filled with the trademark combination of puns, humour and satire. This is another excellent adventure that will stand repeated readings and, I hope, make more lifelong readers.

Benjamin Scott


The Misadventures of Sweetie Pie

Written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg

Andersen   £11.99

ISBN: 978-1783441884

A feisty hamster determines to behave well when picked up in a pet shop so that he can go off to wherever all the other hamsters in his cage have disappeared to over the weeks. Hoping for adventure and excitement, he is in many ways disappointed as he is passed from one small child to another and variously mistreated or ignored. Humans do not come off well in this story, as no-one manages to care effectively for the hamster who is always, of course, in a cage of one sort of another. The illustrations are dynamic and often from an interesting point of view. Children having this book read to them will be able to get a real sense of the indignities and dangers that Sweetie Pie is put through by his various owners and will be relieved with the very satisfying ending.

Annalise Taylor

Titles for the Confident Reader in Primary School

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul

Written and illustrated by Jeff Kinney

Puffin (eB)   £12.99

ISBN: 978-0141354217

Ninth in the Wimpy Kid series, this latest ‘diary’ offers the winning blend of conversational, reader-engaging narrative and amusingly eloquent graphics that has ensured Jeff Kinney’s place at the top of the popularity list for children’s writers. In this story of guaranteed mayhem, Mom Heffley, inspired by her magazine Family Frolic, decides the family needs a ‘bonding’ adventure. Greg, the Wimpy Kid, whose sole wish is to relax at home after a hard summer term, once again finds himself with zero control of his life as the regular cast, Mum, Dad, Roderick, Greg and Manny prepare for the ultimate road trip that will give them ‘authentic’ family experiences. The writer’s ability to tell many incidental stories within the much longer overarching story is a skill that keeps readers wanting more. The book is packed with episodes of silly comedy, pandemonium and nightmarish situations, like lost credit cards, lost keys and a rammed car. Playing a key role in the drama is a temporarily adopted pig and an unscrupulous family of fellow travellers. Plot driven, fast-paced and hugely entertaining for children, this will be another winner for its author.

Catriona Nicholson


The Snow Leopard

Written and illustrated by Jackie Morris

Frances Lincoln   £4.99

ISBN: 978-1847805478

Rarely does such a beautifully illustrated picture book offer such a lyrical text, making the reader feel part of a creation myth of immense style and authenticity. Since time’s beginning the snow leopard has sung life into the stars, sun and moon. Weaving songs to protect them, safe in her hidden Himalayan valley, she knows that time’s passing requires her to find her successor as Mergichan singer. Below in the valley, a girl child dreams her song even as soldiers enter it, seeking gold and slaves: “High in the sacred mountains the sacred cat walked alone, cloaked in her shadow- dappled fur. Crisp snow sparkled in icy stars beneath her huge paws, and all the while she sang. Down in the valley the Child slept, and in her dream she heard the ghost cat’s secret music, and saw the shadows of her dappled coat.” The child learns from the snow leopard the protective songs of the earth, its creatures, its weather, its space, until the day when the leopard leaps off into the stars and the child, become now a full grown snow leopard, begins her own, new song. This mini-edition is a tiny wonder, fifteen centimetres by eleven, which should become beloved by all who own it.

Tina Massey

Julius Zebra: Rumble with the Romans

Written and illustrated by Gary Northfield

Walker (eB)   £8.99

ISBN: 978-1406354928

A slice of Roman history, as told by a zebra. Friendship, loyalty and courage among trainee gladiators, including a lion, a giraffe and a warthog. Sounds bonkers? It is, completely and utterly, bonkers, but in a very entertaining way. It’s easy enough to spot the difference between actual historical facts and the author’s manic imagination. The handy Latin glossary at the back, with an explanation of how Roman numerals work, will help young readers to impress, or perhaps mystify, their friends.

Yvonne Coppard

Titles for readers Moving On from Primary to High School

Blue Moon Day

Written by Anne Fine

Corgi (eB)   £6.99

ISBN: 978-0552571883

Short stories set in a particular framework. Once in a blue moon, Sam needs a day off school but today, when she fakes a stomach ache, Mum has to go to work. Sam finds herself waiting in Mum’s car while she makes her welfare visits with just a book of short stories called Away from Home - and here they are. Sam thinks she might enjoy boarding school but the characters in the stories have mixed experiences. What about being in an institution for young offenders? Or what about going to a main stream school if you are blind? And there is a very ‘Anne Fine story’ about a girl who goes to a Convent School who explains to the staff, politely, that God doesn’t exist. Between each story Sam talks to her mother so we get two stories: Sam’s and the book of school stories. We also discover why Sam needs that ‘once in a blue moon’ day and how she realises something about her mother which reassures her. Both threads give us a good read with some meat on it.

Pat Thomson


The Children who Stayed Behind

Written by Bruce Carter

Illustrated by C. Walter Hodges

Vintage Classics (R) (eB)   £5.99

ISBN: 978-1784870225

This adventure story was originally published in 1958 and the writing, the illustrations and the plot all reflect that fact. Bruce Carter, who incidentally is the father of writers Deborah Moggach and Sarah Garland, imagines what might have happened if, during the Second World War, Brighton had been evacuated due to an actual German land invasion and two families of children had somehow been left behind in the deserted town. The two families in question are the Hartfords and the Foulshams and they are sworn enemies, so some major battles have to be fought before they all unite to help two injured airmen. In fiction anything is possible, so these children are able to have amazing adventures without a parent in sight. They get to do all the things other children can only dream of doing, like driving an armoured car, having free rein on Brighton pier, getting an old steam train moving again and eating baked beans for every meal - and through all of this there is a white rabbit called Kensington to be rescued. It’s all great fun.

Jan Lennon

The Marsh Road Mysteries: Diamonds and Daggers

Written by Elen Caldecott

Bloomsbury (eB)   £5.99

ISBN: 9781-4088-47527

First in a new series of detective mysteries, it introduces us to five friends, each from a different cultural background, who join forces to solve crime. When Piotr’s Dad is accused of the theft of a diamond necklace at the theatre where he works as a security guard, Dad’s first reaction is to return to Poland taking his family with him. Piotr doesn’t want to leave his new home and friends, and so. determined to prove his Dad’s innocence and stay in Marsh Road, he leads the search for the thief. This is a fast-moving whodunit with engaging characters, an urban Famous Five with whom my young reviewers identified as they eliminated one suspect after another till they finally tracked down the villain in a satisfying climax.

Julia Jarman

Titles for Young Teenage Readers


Young Bond: Shoot to Kill

Written by Steve Cole

Doubleday (eB)   £12.99

ISBN: 978-0857533739

Following Charlie Higson’s successful series of five Young Bond novels, Steve Cole takes up the challenge of further developing the amazing youth that will become James Bond. So strongly established is the Ian Fleming character that there is little need to stray from that which is known and loved in the original novels. What was required of Steve Cole were believable characters, particularly the villains, and a plot to match. He has succeeded in spades. Despite looking for a quiet time in a new school away from ‘nasties’ at Eton, James finds himself right up to his neck in torture, corruption, murder and megalomania. Flying the Atlantic on an airship he arrives in L.A. and Hollywood and is instantly targeted by Chicago gangster and a crazed film producer. The level of violence is perhaps more like later Bond Films than anything Ian Fleming might have written. However, the reader today is of this time and things have changed considerably over the past decades. The formula of high living, memorable villains, action and suspense is all here. This is a read to be enjoyed by everyone that loves a Bond adventure, which means millions of fans worldwide will love to pick up Shoot To Kill.

Trevor Thompson

Department 19: Zero Hour

Written by Will Hill

HarperCollins (eB)   £8.99

ISBN: 978-0007505845

This absolutely amazing read, the fourth in the series, will have your heart thudding, your skin creeping and your brain on high alert. Vampirism is growing all over the world and vampires are expected to outnumber ordinary humans within ten years. The vile and overwhelmingly powerful Dracula is converting more and more humans to powerful super vampires by his bite, creating awful creatures which are immensely strong, fly at impossible speeds and are utterly pitiless. Members of Department 19 are desperately struggling to combat the rising tide of menace, which, inflated by social media sites, is also causing witch-hunts for suspected vampires and worldwide terror. Matt Browning goes to America, seeking a cure for vampirism, whilst Jamie Carpenter and his girl, Larissa, enter the deep forests of eastern Europe in search of an ancient, dangerous but potentially powerful, ally. In a plot as complex as Le Carre’s, with locations as wide-ranging as Bond’s Skyfall, the young people and their allies take to the skies, tunnels and darkest forests to engage in battles which are bloody, horror-filled, intense and incredibly fast-paced, leaving the reader serially exhausted. Well written, convincing, with unpredictable characters and a climax like the 1812 Overture on speed, with flights and completely unexpected twists, this is a tremendous achievement.

Tina Massey


Boys Don’t Knit

ISBN: 978-1471401473

An English Boy in New York

ISBN: 978-1471401497

Written by T. S. Easton

Hot Key (eB)   £6.99  

Somehow Ben Fletcher attracts trouble like a magnet, even if he never means to. His heart is in the right place but things always manage to go wrong for him, usually as a result of his friends. After an unfortunate incident with a lollipop lady, a stolen bottle of Martini from a Waitrose supermarket and a harsh judge, he very nearly gets sent to a Young Offenders Unit. To avoid this he has to agree to give something back to the community and develop his sense of social alignment, take up a hobby and stay on the straight and narrow. Because the hot teacher from his school runs the Knitting Group, one of the hobby options open to him, he opts for this, but, as usual, things don’t quite go to plan. He discovers that he has a real talent for knitting and that he loves it. Balancing his successful journey towards the Knit Fair competition finals with the need to avoid his dad and his mates uncovering his secret and bringing eternal humiliation down on his head creates a hilarious and very readable story. In the sequel, his knitting journey continues as he is invited to New York for media interviews and to take part in another knitting competition, but, yet again, his plans go awry. His idea is to use the trip for a romantic few days away with his girlfriend, Megan, but when she mysteriously pulls out, he ends up forced to take his mate, Gex, a ‘wannabe gangsta’ and all-round liability. He quickly finds that his magnetism for trouble follows him across the ocean. Written in diary form, both novels are well written, witty and with laugh-out-loud humour. Characters are well developed and there is something achingly vulnerable about Ben. Being a knitter, really added to my enjoyment of the story and my appreciation of the humour. The knitting references and analogies are spot on. Boys Don’t Knit was on the Carnegie nomination list. Both novels are excellent and reminded me of Adrian Mole. They will have great appeal to teenage boys and girls alike.

Annie Everall

Titles for More Mature readers

Black Dove, White Raven

Written by Elizabeth Wein

Electric Monkey (eB)   £7.99

ISBN: 978-1405271363

Elizabeth Wein has an admirable talent of taking fascinating characters and events which seem improbable and, through skilful writing, weaves them into an exciting, thrilling adventure. The fact that it is all based on real places, people and events makes the story all the more incredible as well as captivating and haunting. Emilia and Teo’s remarkable mothers are pilots, lovers, single parents and one is black, the other white. When Teo’s Mother Delia is tragically killed in an accident Rhoda takes the children to Ethiopia, the birthplace of Teo’s father. The descriptions of their new life on a coffee farm are as rich and colourful as the people who become their friends. An impending Italian invasion becomes a real threat to their small community and, although they try to keep out of trouble, they are soon embroiled in the conflict. Emilia uses all her ingenuity and flair, facing incredible odds to survive and unite her family. The realities of an unfair, unjust and unequal war are not spared in this engrossing and sometimes harrowing story but throughout the bonds of love and loyalty triumph across race, culture, colour and gender.

Louise Stothard


The Door That Led To Where

Written by Sally Gardner

Hot Key (eB)   £10.99

ISBN: 978-1471401084

This is a perfect fusion of time travel, murder mystery and historical novel. A. J. Flynn has failed all but one of his GCSE’s yet, despite this, he manages to get a job in a law firm. His mother is worse than useless and his mates, Leon and Slim, have similarly tough lives. But his life really starts to get complicated when he finds a key, with his name and date of birth on it, in the archives at work. When he manages to find the door that the key belongs to, he is compelled to go through it and discovers a very different London of 1830. From then on he ends up in a world of suspected murder and extreme danger, on both sides of the door. Which side of the door will he choose to stay in? An intriguing mystery with twists and turns and a clever mix of contemporary and historical.

Nicole Jordan


Rainey Royal

Written by Dylan Landis

Soho (eB)   £17.99

ISBN: 978-1616954529

Rainey Royal is the debut novel from U.S. author, Dylan Landis. It follows ten years of Rainey’s life; opening with her at age fourteen, living with her irresponsible father, Howard, a jazz musician, along with several of his musical acolytes. Rainey’s life is dysfunctional, with her frequently taking on the adult role in the father/daughter relationship. She relies on her friends, Tina and Leah, for support, but the thing that keeps her going is her desire to be an artist. She spends hours creating beautiful elaborate quilts from deceased people’s belongings. This very mature novel is very dark at times, for example, the friendship between Rainey and Gordy, her father’s best friend, and few of the characters are likable. Rainey herself has several negative traits, nevertheless you admire her strength and determination to achieve her ambition and escape from her father’s negative influence. Dylan Landis’ style of writing is distinctly staccato, as though the book is one of Rainey’s quilts, with episodes of her life stitched together to make a whole.

Jane Hall


Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Extra reviews for Issue 59

Picture Books for young children


Mungo Monkey Goes to School

Written and illustrated by Lydia Monk

Egmont   £7.99

ISBN: 978-1405269094

Crammed with lift-up flaps, this slight, but cheerful, picture book follows the hero of the title plus his friends on their journey to school. The classroom project today is to find out about bugs, otherwise known, at least in the country, as insects. Some vigorous sketching follows until it is time to play and finally return home. Illustrations throughout are bright and friendly and the minimal accompanying story is particularly suitable for infants at the very early stages of understanding.

Nicholas Tucker


The Zebra Who Ran Too Fast

Written and illustrated by Jenni Desmond

Walker   £11.99

 ISBN: 978-1406347500

Zebra loves his two best friends, Elephant and Bird. They enjoy laughing and playing games together, but, one day, the other two get cross because Zebra is too bouncy and too fast. They say he makes them dizzy. Zebra is heartbroken even though a new friend, Giraffe, is kind to him.  Can he find a way to patch things up with Elephant and Bird?  Expressive illustrations with a gentle humour of their own make this simple story about coping with the stresses within a friendship group an excellent choice for younger readers.

Marianne Adey

Rex Wrecks It

Written and illustrated by Ben Clanton

Candlewick   £10.99

ISBN 978-1406358230

Three little toy friends like to build things out of bricks, but their friend, Rex the dinosaur, just likes knocking them down. Everyone is sad, including Rex, who is sorry, but a bright idea from Gizmo, the robot, means they all find out that working (and wrecking) together is much more fun. This lovely warm message of friendship and togetherness in the face of a familiar problem will be of great encouragement to boisterous toddlers and help them begin to understand their world. A great book for sharing with lots of scope for young readers to expend energy and noise as they join in the repeated text. Dynamic and bold illustrations have plenty of colour and movement, and the clear facial expressions will help young readers understand how the toys feel at different points in the story. Highly recommended.

Lucy Russell

First Steps in reading for young children


On the day you were born

Written by Margaret Wild

Illustrated by Ron Brooks

Allen & Unwin   £10.99

ISBN: 978-1741147544

A father recounts to his child what happened when they went outside together for the very first time on the day the baby was born. We do not see the father or the child, but the images of that first day are portrayed in glorious, full colour illustrations and text that is written in soft, gentle prose, conveying the awe and quiet moments of shared joy that accompany the birth of a much-wanted child.

Yvonne Coppard

The Not-So-Perfect Penguin

Written and illustrated by Steve Smallman

QED   £4.99

ISBN: 978-1781711347

The Not-So-Perfect Penguin is an engaging way for parents to introduce children to the impact of different types of behaviour. Percy is a fun-loving penguin. His peers are all serious and sensible, whereas Percy likes to have fun: sliding on his tummy rather than waddling along like the others, jumping and splashing rather than swimming peacefully. The other penguins are constantly moaning and telling him off, but, when Percy disappears one day, the group realise how much they miss him. Children will love Steve Smallman’s gorgeous illustrations of the cute penguins in the latest book in the ‘Storytime’ series. As with the other books in this collection, the colourful full-page illustrations and heart-warming story are subtly combined with a more serious message: here, being aware of the consequences of your actions, as sometimes what you think is just fun can cause upset and worry for others. The final page of the book contains suggested questions for parents to use to generate discussion with their children about behaviour. This is a gentle, but fun story with an important message sensitively told.

Jane Hall

The Greedy Rainbow

Written by Susan Chandler

Illustrated by Sanja Rescek

QED   £10.99

ISBN: 978-1781715765

The natural world is full of glorious colours and they are there for everyone to enjoy. In this charming story for very young book lovers a tiny rainbow gobbles up all the colour from the forest and as it grows bigger and bigger the forest gets greyer and greyer. Eventually all the colour has gone from the rainforest leaving the animals and plants completely grey and very sad. Once the rainbow realises that it has been selfish, that the forest is no longer beautiful and that it has made everyone unhappy it starts to cry and the colours pour back into the forest. But, amusingly, things aren’t quite as they were before. Lots of books for small children are about colour, but this beautifully illustrated story also highlights the importance and pleasure of sharing. The book includes a page of suggested discussion points for teachers and parents, just in case a teacher or a parent finds it tricky to talk about the book and its theme.       

Jan Lennon

Titles for the young child just beginning to Read Alone


The Selkie Girl

Retold by Janis Mackay

Illustrated by Ruchi Mhasane

Kelpies   £5.99

ISBN: 978-1782501305

A beautiful retelling of a traditional Scottish tale for a young audience. Fergus lives with his father, a poor fisherman. and spends his lonely days beachcombing. One day he finds a wonderful treasure - a seal skin. Fergus does not realise he has taken a Selkie girl’s skin, without which she cannot return to the sea and to her mother. Once she reveals herself, they become firm friends, playing and catching fish. Fergus longs for her to remain with him, but the Selkie girl must return to the sea. A poignant parting ensues, but the Selkie girl continues to watch over Fergus from the sea, and increases the catch of fish, improving the fortunes and happiness of the whole village. Stunning watercolour illustrations fill the pages, echoing the tenderness of the story, and drawing the reader into the beautiful Scottish coastal landscape. Every word of the text has been carefully chosen: Janis Mackay works as a storyteller as well as an author and her talent is clear. A superb book.

Lucy Russell

Titles for the Confident Reader in Primary School


Maisie Hitchins: The Case of the Secret Tunnel

Written by Holly Webb

Illustrated by Marion Lindsay

Stripes (eB)   £5.99

ISBN: 978-1847154361

Holly Webb's Victorian detective series is perfect for those younger readers who are starting to build their reading confidence. In this fifth mystery in the series, Maisie and her dog Eddie are on the case of the suspicious lodger who has just moved into her Gran's house. Something is just not right about Mr Grange, as he says that he works for a biscuit factory but when Maisie questions him about his favourite biscuit, his answer shows that he must be lying! Not only that but there are other strange occurrences involving missing laundry from washing lines, stolen paintings and very odd behaviour in the London Underground. Can Maisie find the link between these crimes and solve the mystery herself or will she end up in too deep when she realises there are serious criminals at work? Maisie is an endearing, confident character and the lovely illustrations work beautifully well with the plot, helping the reader to notice the clues along the way.

Nicole Jordan


Willy’s Stories

Written & illustrated by Anthony Browne

Walker   £12.99

ISBN: 978-1406351613

Thirty years after the publication of Willy the Wimp Anthony Browne pays tribute to the writers and illustrators who have inspired his own work over the years by enabling his iconic hero to enter the fictional worlds of ten classic stories and play a role. The compelling shine of the book jacket draws the reader through marbled end papers and into Willy’s frontispiece smile. He holds a book, bearing the title Willy’s Stories, the cover of which replicates the familiar fair-isle pattern of his jersey. This motif is used to highlight the initial letter of each verso text page. That sense of pattern that characterises Anthony Browne’s work amply fulfils reader expectations in this book. Each adventure begins with Willy going ‘through the door’ into his story world. Each places Willy in some kind of confrontation or challenge before inviting young readers to play the game of ‘What happens next?’. Each of the illustrated recto plates has some visual reference to books whether they form the trunk of a Crusoe tree, fly as gulls, become a Kansas home or construct Rapunzel’s tower. Every Anthony Browne hallmark is here: anthropomorphic woodlands, Magritte skies, gloriously incongruous transformations. A triumph of a Willy-celebration!

Catriona Nicholson

Titles for readers Moving On from Primary to High School


The Vanishing of Billy Buckle

Written by Sally Gardner

Illustrated by David Roberts

Orion (eB)   £5.99

ISBN: 978-1444003741

Another fabulous story about the Fairy Detective Agency, who appeared in the books Operation Bunny and Three Pickled Herrings. The Giant, Billy Buckle has disappeared. He went away for the weekend, leaving his six year old daughter, Primrose, in the safe-keeping of the Agency. However, Billy did not reappear and Emily and Co were not only concerned about him, but were also anxious because Primrose was growing very fast indeed, so much so that she was threatening to shoot through the roof. The search for Billy leads the team to the seaside and involves them in the theft of a diamond, a murder and a talent show! The pace is fast and furious and the plot quite complex, making for gripping reading. There is never a dull moment - the next crisis is just around the corner!

Patricia Thompson


 Nightmares! 368

Written by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller

Doubleday (eB)   £9.99

ISBN: 978-085753555

Nightmares! The debut novel from actor Jason Segel, of The Muppet Movie, and Kirsten Miller is actually a dream to read. Charlie Laird’s widowed father has recently remarried and Charlie hates his new stepmother. Not only because he resents her trying to take his Mum’s place, but because they have moved into her house - a huge purple mansion at the edge of town. Since moving there Charlie has had nightmares, and now the nightmares are beginning to invade his waking life too. It is up to Charlie to stop them before they take over forever. Nightmares! is an impressive start to a proposed trilogy, although it does read as a stand-alone novel too. The nightmares in the book may be familiar to young readers - fear of the dark and worries about exams. At times, the story is quite scary, especially President Fear and his goblin followers. The scares are balanced though by some lighter moments with other Netherworld characters, such as gorgons and clowns, who believe that they are there “to help children face their fears” and that once they have achieved this, the nightmares will retire to Dreamworld. This exciting fantasy adventure is ideal for confident readers.

Jane Hall

Mutant City

Written by Steve Feasey

Bloomsbury (eB)   £6.99

ISBN: 978-1408843031

Mutant City, the first of a thrilling new adventure series, is ideal for young fans of the X-Men. It begins with the destruction of a secret experimental facility, and the covert escape of its five residents - children created with super-powers. Jump forward thirteen years and the world is divided between the privileged ‘pure’ and the abused ‘mutants’. The existence of the mutant children has been discovered by President Melk – their creator, and the battle begins between those who want to keep the children safe, and those who want to use their powers for their own benefit. This action packed tale moves along at a swift pace, but never at the expense of the plot or character development. Although aimed at a young teen audience, the premise is quite dark: mutant children created to be used and disposed of by the rich and powerful. The chapters focus on different characters so the reader gradually gets to know each one a little more. Rush and Brick are the main focus of this book and their relationship is strong and loyal. No doubt other characters will be developed more in future books. President Melk is pure evil. A thrilling read.

Jane Hall

Titles for Young Teenage Readers


Opal Plumstead

Written by Jacqueline Wilson

Illustrated by Nick Sharratt

Doubleday (eB)   £12 .99

ISBN: 978-0857531094

There are always legions of fans waiting avidly for the next Jacqueline Wilson novel and here comes number 100! We are taken back to 1913. Women are starting to demand the right to vote, trade unions are gaining power in the work place and World War One is not far away. Initially, Opal is not aware of any of this. She is busy coming top in everything at school and hoping to go on to university, but these dreams are shattered when her father is jailed for embezzlement and she has to leave school and start work at the sweet factory. Here she learns, among many other things, that bullying is not confined to the schoolyard and that the class system still holds firm.  Opal’s family find it a struggle to make ends meet and retain their standard of living, but Opal is an intelligent and spirited young lady who is determined to make the best of the situation. Jacqueline Wilson uses her usual deceptively light touch to tackle some weighty topics and make them accessible to her young teen readers.

Jan Lennon

The Piper

Written by Danny Weston

Andersen (eB)   £6.99

ISBN: 978-1783440511

In this wonderfully dramatic story supernatural forces are at work on Romney March. At the beginning of World War II Peter and Daisy are evacuated from Dagenham to a remote farmhouse inhabited by an elderly gentleman, his invalid daughter and their devoted housekeeper. The marshland around the house is treacherous as paths are difficult to follow so the children are told not to go out alone. Each night they hear music that Daisy feels compelled to follow, but inexplicably their new guardians claim not to hear it. On a rare trip away from the house Peter hears the story of the piper and his thirst for revenge. He realises that his sister is in great danger and there is very little time to prevent yet another tragedy happening on the marsh. Danny Weston’s debut novel is an exciting and atmospheric tale with ghostly dancers and mysterious music interwoven with real locations and historical events. There is also an ancient curse and a cast of strangely remote adult characters living in an eerie isolated house, so this has all the ingredients of an enjoyably scary read.

Jan Lennon


Skulduggery Pleasant: Armageddon Outta Here

Written by Derek Landy

HarperCollins (eB)   £14.99

ISBN: 978-0007559534

Armageddon Outta Here (even Derek Landy admits he can’t believe they let him use this title) is not for those new to the world of Skulduggery Pleasant, but is a must read for those legions of fans eagerly awaiting the final book in the series. It is a collection of short stories previously available from websites, bonuses previously in earlier titles, the World Book Day novella The End of the World, some new short stories, plus a sneak peak at that final book The Dying of the Light. The book opens with a story set in1861 in South Dakota and follows The Dead Men pursuing a character that fans will know well. This warns the reader that this is no ordinary Skulduggery book. It leaps across the years telling tales of adventures between the novels, but a useful timeline helps place the tales in context. My personal favourite is Get thee Behind Me, Bubba Moon, a ghost story that would not be out of place in a Stephen King collection. My advice, if you are a fan don’t miss this book, if not get this book and the first Skulduggery Pleasant book and join in the fun.

Trevor Hall


Buffalo Soldier

Written by Tanya Landman

Walker (eB)   £7.99

ISBN: 978-1406314595

This book, of very wide ranging themes, basically tells the story of a young female slave, liberated by the American Civil War, who pretends to be a boy and joins the army. This may seem an unlikely scenario, but it is actually based on a true story. Alongside this basic plot, the book explores in some depth, the treatment of freed slaves, the pursuit of the Native American population and the management of the problems that they allegedly create. It also exposes in some detail the role of the Army, the Government, and the corrupt Indian agents in the treatment of the various tribal groups. It does not make for comfortable reading, but, it is brilliantly written! The text is a narrative by Charlotte/Charley and the book is impossible to put down. The reader can sense her feelings of fear for herself, her growing pity for the Native Americans, and her pleasure and affection for her horse and the other members of her troop, who are all black and freed slaves. There is also a sense of her growing belief that nothing will ever change and that the freedom that all slaves dream about is just a word meaning absolutely nothing. I would very strongly recommend this book.

Patricia Thompson

The Convent

Written by Maureen McCarthy

Allen & Unwin   £11.99

ISBN: 978-1743361184

The huge Abbotsford Convent community, where a closed order of nuns runs a school, an orphanage and one of the now notorious Magdalene Laundries, touched the lives of four generations of women in the same family. Sadie has her young daughter, Ellen, taken from her when, without any warning or court involvement, she is declared to be an unfit mother. Ellen grows up in the convent and eventually marries and has a daughter of her own, Cecilia. While Cecilia willingly enters the order as a nun, she leaves the order and gives birth to an illegitimate daughter, whom she gives up for adoption. Peach, the last link in the family chain, has a student job at the cafĂ© – in the now-converted Convent building. The nuns have long gone but the memories remain. The stories of the four young women play out and intertwine in an absorbing, convincing portrayal of the journey each of them must make as she struggles to escape from her past. It is a poignant read, all the more so for being based on Maureen McCarthy’s own family history.

Yvonne Coppard


Killing Sound

Written by Paul Southern

Chicken House (eB)   £7.99

ISBN: 978-1909489080

This is the story of Jodie, who at the age of three years witnessed the terrible scene of her parents’ murder. She has suppressed the memory for years, but now something has awoken the past. In this horrifying story of the paranormal, Jodie and her friends confront a terrifying enemy, unleashing monstrous forces with disastrous consequences. The story unfolds slowly as Jodie first finds, and then tries to experiment with, her scientist father’s old equipment. He was in the process of testing his theories to explain the paranormal with ultrasound, working in the bowels of the London underground. But his work was cut short by a ghastly explosion and double murder. This is an exciting story, with a strong plot, as we can believe in Jodie and her motivation for seeking the truth. As the plot becomes increasingly violent we begin to suspect that Jodie may, unwittingly, be part of the problem. The final episode is disturbing and leaves a familiar question to be answered – should teenage horror novels steer towards a happy or at least hopeful ending, or not? Not recommended for the faint-hearted!

Liz Dubber

Titles for More Mature readers

Out of Control

Written by Sarah Alderson

Simon & Schuster (eB)   £6.99

ISBN: 978-1471115752

Liva, who has recently moved to New York to start a new life, is with the police giving a statement for a crime she has witnessed. Whilst there, she meets Jay, who has been arrested for car theft. Armed men break into the police station killing as they go, but, together, Jay and Liva manage to escape. Liva gradually comes to realise that she is the target and not just a witness. This book is exciting, fast paced and a real page-turner. The tension is palpable and the chase through the streets and subways of New York is like watching a film. There are unexpected twists to the story and a teenage romance which all adds to its appeal.

Ingrid Fox


Written by Malinda Lo

Hodder (eB)   £6.99

ISBN: 978-1444917949

Malinda Lo skilfully intertwines sci-fi and romance in this, her new teen novel. Across North America flocks of birds are flying into planes, killing thousands in the resultant crashes. Fearing terrorism, the US government cancels all flights. Reese and David are stranded in Arizona following a debating competition, and on their drive home to San Francisco a bird crashes into their windscreen causing their car to flip over. When they awake twenty-seven days later in a military hospital, no one will tell them where they are or what has happened to them. All the two know is that they are subtly different from before the crash. Adaptation is perfect for fans of The X-Files. Lo has gathered all the key features to enthral young teens in a love triangle between Reese, David and the mysterious Amber, thrilling conspiracy theories and aliens. The main characters are well depicted in shy Reese, wary of romance due to her parents’ failed marriage, and geeky best friend Julian, thrilled by Reese’s extra-terrestrial adventures. While waiting for the sequel, Inheritance, fans can enjoy the accompanying eBook novella Natural Selection.

Jane Hall