Blog News

Middle Grade Strikes Back!

MGSB
Today sees the launch of a really exciting new venture, one I’m thrilled to be a part of. Middle Grade Strikes Back is a new collaborative blog focusing on the best and brightest of books published for the middle grades (roughly 8 – 13 year olds). There’s a fantastic mix of contributors, you can see the list as it stands here.

The site is the brainchild of Darren from The Book Zone (for boys) – he’s done a brilliant job of bringing together so many people passionate about middle grade books.There will be a real mixture of posts including news, reviews, interviews, lists and so many more. These will be from authors, publishers, librarians, bloggers and anyone else who wants to be involved.

I can’t wait to get my first post done, but even more than that I’m excited to see what everyone else will be contributing. There are two posts already:

Here’s to many more!

Book Review

Book Chat: Christmas Fireside Stories.

When I saw lovely Pan MacMillan publicist Natasha tweeting about review copies of Christmas Fireside Stories being available I knew I needed to ask for a copy, it included short stories from some of my mom’s favourite authors. When it arrived I handed it straight over and now, on Christmas Eve, she’s here to share her thoughts about the book.

From the back cover:
imageSnuggle up by the fire with this festive collection of Christmas short stories from six bestselling authors.

Christmas at Briar Farm by Diane Allen
Christmas preparations are in full swing at Briar farm as the Bainbridge family get ready for a traditional 1960s Christmas – with all the trimmings.

Kate’s Miracle by Rita Bradshaw
It’s Christmas 1919 in the north of England and things are looking bleak for Kate and her two small children. That is until Kate discovers the strength of friendship and community at Christmas time . . .

The Gift by Margaret Dickinson
Christmas Eve, 1914. A moment of hope unites soldiers on both sides of the trenches as the spirit of Christmas reaches those divided by war, and an act of generosity changes one man’s life forever.

Christmas at Thalstead Halt by Annie Murray
The station master at Thalstead Halt has the unexpected task of sheltering snow bound passengers, in the run up to Christmas 1886. And that’s not the only unexpected occurrence at Thalstead Halt . . .

You’ll Never Know Just How Much I Love You by Pam Weaver
Christmas Eve, 1943. The post office at Goring-on-Sea is up against bitter winter weather but nothing can stop an emergency delivery, or the power of true love at Christmas time.

A Wounded Christmas by Mary Wood
Can friendship, humour and a Boxing Day party help to ease the heartaches of 1942? A heart-warming story featuring characters from the saga novel Proud of You.

This collection includes delicious Christmas recipes recommended by the authors.

Did you enjoy the book?
Yes I really enjoyed the stories, they covered a range of times and settings but they all shared a similar theme of that Christmas spirit. In between the stories each author has written a personal piece about Christmas, I found those really interesting to read.

Can you pick a favourite story from the six?
Christmas at Briar Farm because there was so much of it that reminded me of my own childhood Christmases. Lots of the things that happened brought back memories and I really related to the characters.

You mentioned when you finished reading that you were slightly disappointed with the book itself, can you explain why?
Only that I thought the stories and then the recipes were going to take up the whole book, instead it finished partway through and then had samples of the authors’ other books. A couple of them were extracts from books I’ve already read. It didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the Christmas stories, I was just expecting them to be a little longer.

Did you like the inclusion of the recipes in the book?
Yes, though I would have liked to have seen them placed at the end of the festive stories rather than after the extracts. They all sound delicious and I’ll probably try a couple of them.

Were you familiar with all of the authors before you read this book?
No, I’d read books by all of the authors apart from Pam Weaver. Both Annie Murray and Margaret Dickinson are two of my long time favourite authors.

Will you now read more from the authors you weren’t so familiar with?
Yes, I’ll certainly look out for books from all of the authors who featured in this book. After loving Christmas at Briar Farm I’m particularly keen to read more by Diane Allen.

Christmas Fireside Stories is published by PanMacmillan in the UK. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Picture Book Round Up.

A slightly different sort of picture book post today, I’m simply rounding up the picture books I’ve read recently.

A Home for Mr Tipps written and illustrated by Tom Percival – a cute book about a young boy adopting a stray cat. It has lovely illustrations with bold colours which work well with the story.

Daddy Does the Cha Cha Cha is written by David Bedford and illustrated by Bridget Strevens-Marzo – a fun story about lots of dads who all have their own signature dance. Not particularly high on plot but the choices of different dances made me smile.

Grandma’s Saturday Soup is written by Sally Fraser and Derek Brazell. Published by Mantra Lingua, the book is available in 29 different dual language editions, I read the English with French version. It’s a lovely story, everything Mimi sees around her reminds of her grandmother and the delicious sounding soup she makes on Saturdays. There’s lots to discuss here, from family to different cultures to the seasons and days of the week.

Here Be Monsters written by Jonathan Emmett and illustrated by Poly Bernatene – an exciting pirate adventure with a real sting in its tail. The illustrations are gorgeous and add a lot to the reading experience. The text is rhyming, some work better than others, and lengthy – this would be best suited to slightly older children.

And finally, sticking with the nautical theme, The Sea Tiger is written and illustrated by Victoria Turnbull. It’s a touching story about a sea tiger and merboy who are best friends, having lots of adventures together. The story is quite deep and whilst the illustrations are beautiful they’re also very muted, I’m not entirely sure what young readers would make of the book.

Book Review

Book Review: Starring Kitty by Keris Stainton.

StarringKittySometimes the greatest love stories happen behind the scenes…

Kitty’s keeping secrets. Like how she’s struggling to cope with her mum’s illness. And how she’s falling for the girl with the purpley-red hair… A fun film competition with her friends Sunny and Hannah seems like the perfect distraction. But then Dylan wants to be more than Kitty’s secret. Is Kitty ready to let her two worlds meet or will she risk losing Dylan forever?

Starring Kitty is the first in a new series about first love and friendship by much-loved teen author Keris Stainton.

I have known Keris for a long time now, quite a while before her debut novel Della Says OMG! was published. I’ve read and enjoyed each book that she has written, you can see my review of Jessie Hearts NYC. When I heard about her new series for Catnip Publishing, focusing on three friends who enter a film making competition, I thought it sounded wonderful. Starring Kitty is the first book in this series, and it completely lived up to my expectations.

Kitty, the star of this book, is 14. It’s hard enough being a teenager but she has other things to worry about. Firstly there’s her mum, she has Multiple Sclerosis and Kitty is trying to cope with how this has changed her family life. I thought the way this subject was covered was excellent, having a close family member with a chronic, disabling illness has such an impact and this was explored thoroughly and thoughtfully. I particularly liked that Kitty’s feelings are negative at times, I think this is really important.

The other major thing in Kitty’s life is her first, fledgling romance. We learn at the very beginning of the book that she has feelings for someone, but that someone is a girl not a boy. This aspect of the story is just lovely, it’s tentative and cute and everything first love should be. Kitty is still becoming confident in her own self and her own identity, this leads her to make some decisions about her relationship that we the reader can see are not for the best, but they feel entirely understandable.

Kitty is an excellent main character, I really loved her friendship with Sunny and Hannah. I’m very glad that this is a beginning of a series and that the subsequent books will be from their perspectives – I really want to get to know them even better. One of my favourite relationships in the book only features a couple of times, it’s between Kitty and her brother Tom who is away at university in London. I loved well written sibling relationships and theirs is wonderful.

The #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign is growing stronger and stronger at the moment. This is a great example of a diverse book, some of the characters happen to fall in to minority groups but they are never defined by these characteristics, instead being fully rounded and allowed to just be.

The next book in the series Spotlight on Sunny comes out next Spring, I can’t wait to read it!

Starring Kitty is published by Catnip Publishing in the UK. My copy of the book is one I purchased myself.

Book Review

MG Monday: The Grunts in Trouble by Philip Ardagh.

middlegrademonday

Middle Grade Mondays on Juniper’s Jungle feature books aimed at 8 – 12 year olds, or younger. This week, The Grunts in Trouble by Philip Ardagh gets the focus.

GruntsMeet Mr and Mrs Grunt. Oh, go on. They’re not that bad. No, actually, they ARE. Maybe worse, even. But Sunny, their sort-of son, is okay. They stole him from a washing line as a baby. He was hanging by his ears, which probably explains why they’re so wonky (but not why he has sticky-up hair that NEVER lies flat, even if you pour glue into it or try taping it in place). Sticky around and you’ll also meet Lord Bigg of Bigg Manor, Bigg-hater Larry Smalls, Mimi the Bigg Manor boot boy (yup, she’s a girl) and…Well, you’ll have to READ the book to find that out. But I should mention the bees. Did I warn you about the bees?!

There are a number of middle grade series that I have written on a list to try, ones that I hear about from my Beaver Scouts or from parents who have children of the appropriate age. When I do read the first book in the series sometimes it’s a case of love at first page and I find myself wondering when on earth I’m going to find the time to read all of the other books in the series. Then there are books that are an interesting enough read but I don’t feel any drive to read more – this is how I felt about The Grunts.

I can definitely see the appeal of this book to younger readers. It’s funny and engaging with larger than life characters who move from one amusing moment of trouble to the next, with each problem proving larger (and potentially funnier) than the last. I personally found that whilst the story was amusing it didn’t really make me laugh out loud, I think I had started reading expecting it to be more funny than it actually was.

This book is illustrated by Axel Scheffler who is probably most familiar for his work on The Gruffalo and The Gruffalo’s Child, written by Julia Donaldson. I reviewed one of his self-penned Pip and Posy books a little while ago, you can see that here. I really like his style and it works well in this book, seeing The Grunts and the other characters brought to life in the pages – I think I’d be hard pressed to pick a favourite character.

One thing I wasn’t quite sure about with this book was the somewhat rambling nature of the narrative. The book has a storyteller style narrator who often goes off on tangents that are only partially related to the story itself. These are sometimes quite funny and entertaining, but at times I found myself wishing that the narrator would just get on with the story. I am very sure that this aspect of the book will work very differently for different readers and that some will absolutely love it.

I’m very glad that I’ve read this, the first book to feature The Grunts, and that I’ve now met the characters. I won’t be rushing to read any more of their stories, but I’ll certainly try some of Philip Ardagh’s other series in the future.

The Grunts in Trouble is published by Nosy Crow in the UK. My copy of the book is one I purchased myself.

Book Review

Book Review: The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith.

TGoYaMOwen and Lucy are stuck in a life. As they await help, they start talking…

Though brief, the time they spend together leaves a mark. And as their lives take them to Edinburgh and San Francisco, to Prague and to Portland they can’t shake the memory of the time they shared. Postcards cross the globe when they themselves can’t, as Owen and Lucy experience the joy – and pain – of first love.

As each makes their separate journey in search of home, they will discover that sometimes it is a person rather than a place that anchors you most in the world.

I absolutely love Jennifer E Smith’s books. I’ve previously reviewed The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight and This Is What Happy Looks Like – both were the sort of books that made my heart feel like it was singing. The synopsis for this new book made me think I was in for another treat, what could be better than a romance blossoming out of being trapped in a lift?

This book is slightly different to the ones I’ve mentioned, with the romance element having more of a slow burn quality. It’s gorgeous and wonderful and I found myself entirely wrapped up in the characters and their lives very quickly. The first part of the book introduces us to our main characters, Lucy and Owen, first with them stuck in the lift and then with them working out how to spend the time whilst the power cut causing the blackout is resolved. Their lives then pull them apart physically, and to an extent emotionally – though never once did I believe that these distances wouldn’t be bridged (yes, I’m a hopeless romantic).

I love the way the author creates characters we can really care about, Lucy and Owen are no different. Both of them are quite isolated in their own way, Lucy because her parents spend much of their time travelling abroad, and Owen because his father is trying to work out how to make a life for them since the death of Owen’s mother. I found it interesting to see how both of these family circumstances were explored, they’re not just convenient plot devices to remove the adults from the book – whilst they may not be all that present the parents are definitely felt in this book and their far from uncommon situations are handled deftly and thoughtfully.

Travel in books is a sure fire winner for me, both Lucy and Owen spend part of the book travelling. I particularly enjoyed Owen’s travel in the USA – he visits a few places I haven’t seen in books before and I love getting to experience new places through the eyes of characters.

This is a highly satisfying read. I would say though that unless you’re the sort of reader who reads a few pages at a time and then puts a book down you’ll probably want to start this book at a time when you can read and read and read. This is not an easy book to walk away from, you’re so quickly drawn into it and don’t want to leave the characters for any longer than you must.

The Geography of You and Me is published by Headline in the UK. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review: TimeBomb by Scott K. Andrews.

TimebombNew York City, 2141: Yojana Patel throws herself off a skyscraper, but never hits the ground.

Cornwall, 1640: gentle young Dora Predennick, newly come to Sweetclover Hall to work, discovers a badly-burnt woman at the bottom of a flight of stairs. When she reaches out to comfort the dying woman, she’s knocked unconscious, only to wake, centuries later, in empty laboratory room.

On a rainy night in present-day Cornwall, seventeen-year-old Kaz Cecka sneaks into the long-abandoned Sweetclover Hall, determined to secure a dry place to sleep. Instead he finds a frightened housemaid who believes Charles I is king and an angry girl who claims to come from the future.

Thrust into the centre of an adventure that spans millennia, Dora, Kaz and Jana must learn to harness powers they barely understand to escape not only villainous Lord Sweetclover but the forces of a fanatical army… all the while staying one step ahead of a mysterious woman known only as Quil.

I am always on the look out for more time travel in books so the synopsis for this one definitely grabbed my attention. That the three main characters all came from distinctly different time periods added to the interest for me – this was surely going to add another layer to the story.

The story begins by introducing each of the main characters whilst they’re still in their own time, before they’ve made their first journey in time. Very quickly the time travel element is brought in, and the three are brought together. I was really pleased that when it comes to the time travel they’re all as clueless as each other, obviously their life experiences are hugely different so being in each other’s times is difficult for each in turn but the actual time travel concept is new to them all.

After the early part of the book has them in a future setting much of the action takes place in Dora’s time. This works really well, she still has the challenges of being around people whose frames of reference are so different to her own but doesn’t have to deal that much with the world itself looking and working so differently to her own. The historical setting also throws up plenty of challenges for the trio to contend with including the ongoing English Civil War.

The book is told from each of the main characters’ perspectives and occasionally from other characters’. I really liked this, getting to spend time with each of the characters gives the reader time to start to get to know them though their level of development does vary in this first book. Jana in particular remains a little of a mystery – maybe as much because it is she who comes from the future so there’s no easy frame of reference for the reader. I look forward to learning more about her in the next book.

No time travel story would work without a good villain, Quil in this book is no exception. She’s intriguing, she gets the narrative focus at various points during the story which gives us a little insight into her. I have a feeling that the more we get to know her the less traditional villain she’s going to become, hopefully the follow up to this will allow me to understand this feeling!

This is, as I’ve mentioned, the first book in a trilogy. It works well as an opener, there’s a clear story that belongs solely to this book as well as all of the threads that are going to flow into the rest of the series. Well worth a look.

TimeBomb is published by Hodder Books in the UK. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.