Children’s Books

We Are All Made of Molecules – Susin Nielsen

Posted in American Fiction, Children's Books, Proofs, YA Fiction on July 21st, 2015 by admin – Be the first to comment


Jacqueline Wilson’s novels about “jigsaw” families were extremely popular with young teens but she has recently moved from contemporary to more historical settings. Susin Nielsen’s novel fills that gap very nicely with its lighthearted look at serious issues.
Narrated by nerdy, socially challenged Stewart and academically challenged, Queen Bee Ashley in short and snappy alternate chapters this story will appeal to young teens.Thirteen year old Stewart and fourteen year old Ashley are thrown together in a “blended” step family which Stewart imagines will be akin to paradise whereas Ashley expects the worst. It’s a predictable enough story with an unlikely hero saving the day but it has lots of humour and real heart which draws the reader in very quickly. I still giggle when I remember Ashley’s fervent desire to be “unconstipated” – an in-joke, you have to read the book to get it!An easy read which touches on some fairly heavy issues, We are all Made of Molecules will appeal to boys and girls aged 12 and over, especially those who enjoyed Wonder by R J Palacio.

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Alma Books Giveaway – The Little Prince

Posted in Children's Books, Giveaway on July 18th, 2015 by admin – 31 Comments

The Little Prince

Giveaway now closed et voici les résultats!  Douze points pour Rhi P and Angi Holden.  Félicitations!  Alma Books will send the books directly to you within the next few weeks…at which stage I will hopefully be gazing over the rooftops of Paris.

This year Alma Books has branched out by venturing into the realm of Children’s and YA Fiction.  Soon you will have the “pleasure”  of reading my review of  Madame Tussaud’s Apprentice, one of the frontrunners in the YA stable but, to keep you going in the meantime, I am delighted to give my UK readers the opportunity to win a copy of a new translation of The Little Prince.  Targeted at ages 7-11, this edition will appeal to dreamers of all ages…if I could I would enter!

So allons-y with le nitty gritty ( I can actually speak French, as some of you know..)


a Rafflecopter giveaway


Having crash-landed in the Sahara desert, a pilot comes across a young boy who introduces himself as the “Little Prince” and tells him the story of how he grew up on a tiny asteroid before travelling across the galaxies and coming to Earth. His encounters and discoveries, seen through childlike, innocent eyes, give rise to candid reflections on life and human nature.First published in 1943 and featuring the author’s own watercolour illustrations, The Little Prince has since become a classic philosophical fable for young and old, as well as a global publishing phenomenon, selling tens of millions of copies worldwide and being translated into dozens of languages.


“A saint in short, true to his name, flying up here at the right hand of God… And he was not the only one. He was merely the one who put it into words most beautifully and anointed himself before the altar of the right stuff.” Tom Wolfe



Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900–44) was a French writer and aviator, who disappeared on a reconnaissance mission during the Second World War. The author of several memoirs about flying, he is best remembered today for the novella The Little Prince.


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North of Nowhere – Liz Kessler

Posted in Children's Books on April 11th, 2014 by admin – 2 Comments

My 10 year old daughter is a big fan of Liz Kessler’s previous  novels, including the fantasy series, Philippa Fisher and Emily Windsnap, so I was keen to read her latest novel and see what all the fuss was about.

Targeted at children aged nine and above, this is the second of three stand-alone novels all of which have a connection with time-travel.  Whilst being more grounded in the “real” world than the fantasy novels, there is still that subtle element of the supernatural suffusing the story.

Our narrator is thirteen year old Mia (Amelia).  Her plans for a chilled out Spring half-term, hanging out with her friends, are dashed when her Grandad goes missing and she and her Mum have to join her Gran in the sleepy fishing village of Porthaven – with no mobile phone signal, no satellite tv, no internet – a teen’s worst nightmare!   Fortunately Mia makes a new friend in Dee, a local girl, although their friendship is somewhat unconventional given that they communicate via letters and diary entries.

This is a cleverly constructed, gripping tale blending time travel, mystery, family relationships and friendships and introducing realistic, very relatable characters.  The conversations between Mia and her family and her  peers hit exactly the right note.  The setting is perfect for a mystery with its windswept coast and taciturn locals – I found it reminiscent of Daphne du Maurier’s gothic haunts.

An intelligent, fast-paced adventure story which, I’m pleased to report, was enjoyed equally by my daughter and me.  We’re both looking forward to the next stand-alone novel, Has Anyone Seen Jessica Jenkins,which is due out on 14th August 2014 published by Orion Childrens.

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The Watcher in the Shadows – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Posted in Children's Books, Historical Fiction, Proofs, YA Fiction on May 7th, 2013 by admin – 2 Comments

The Watcher in the Shadows


Orion Children’s Books (an Imprint of The Orion Publishing Group Ltd )



My Rating
5 stars

I am a big fan of Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s writing, both his adult and children’s novels, since I first read The Shadow of the Wind when it was published in 2004.    Since then I have enjoyed his two other books in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books cycle,  The Angel’s Game and The Prisoner of Heaven.  There has been quite a gap between each adult novel being published but Zafon aficianados have been sustained in the interim by his Niebla (Mist) series for Young Adults which were originally written in the 90s but have recently been translated by Lucia Graves who did such a splendid job of translating Zafon’s adult novels.

Like Zafon, I fervently believe that storytelling transcends age and that his YA novels appeal to any reader who  loves magic and mystery so I was delighted to dive into The Watcher in the Shadows, the third of the Niebla series, a cycle of books which can be read as stand-alone novels as their linking theme is mystery and adventure rather than a series of characters.

In The Watcher in the Shadows you can see the first germinating seeds of Zafon’s masterful storytelling skills, that elegant Gothic style steeped in mystery and magic with an aura of malevolence haunting the narrative.  Our setting is Normandy, France in the summer of 1937.  Recently widowed Simone Sauvelle and her young children Irene and Dorian hope to make a fresh start in the small coastal village of Blue Bay where Simone has secured a post as housekeeper to Lazarus Jann, an inventor and toy manufacturer, who resides in a secluded mansion with his invalid wife.  Lazarus is the only person allowed to attend to his wife and they lead a rather unconventional life surrounded by the automatons and other fantastic pieces created by the toymaker.

At first, the omens look favourable for the Sauvelles.   Young teen, Irene, falls in love with a local boy.  Dorian is taken under Lazarus’ wing.  Simone feels settled and happy in her work.  Perhaps it is all a bit too perfect?  Indeed, fortunes change when a dark, malevolent force is unleashed and the reader is led on a breathtaking adventure with plenty of scary moments en route!   Its a fabulous, rollicking tale filled with suspense and mystery – a story which harks back to ripping yarns of years gone by but don’t expect a fairytale ending…  Highly recommended for both young  and old(er) adventurers.

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Better than Easter Eggs…

Posted in Children's Books on March 26th, 2013 by admin – 1 Comment

If you’re looking for something for your children for Easter why not buy them a book…much more nutritious for their brains! :-)

The following reviews are of sequels to books which my children and I loved so we had a feeling they would be good.

Source – from Net Galley

Random House Children’s Publishers UK

Pub Date: May 2 2013 for paperback release
Big Change for Stuart is the sequel to Small Change for Stuart and they both revolve around the adventures of 10 year old, short for his age, Stuart Horten (S.Horten..). Suitable for confident male and female readers from about 7 years and over, this makes a pleasant change from the sparkly, pony/unicorn/fairy/wizard, adventures which are usually targeted at this age group. The result is an intelligently written adventure story which has an old-fashioned ring to it but still translates well into the modern, technological era.

The characters are likeable and interesting. Stuart is a curious young boy, keen to investigate the legacy of his Great Uncle who was a stage magician. He is accompanied on his adventures by his intrepid companion April as they solve the mysteries surrounding each piece of magical apparatus used during his Great Uncle’s stage act. Another engaging character is Stuart’s father who has tendency to use multisyllabic words – his job as a crossword compiler tends to hinder rather than aid his communication skills!

The book is split into short, snappy chapters and set out like a series of puzzles which will appeal to many young children. Even though this is a sequel, it can be read as a stand-alone but of course you will immediately want to read the first book anyway!

Highly recommended for children with inquiring minds who enjoy a touch of magic.

Itch Rocks

Random House Children’s Publishers UK

Pub Date: Feb 28 2013
Considering my 12 year old son and I (late 40s..) both loved the first in this series we were keenly anticipating the follow up, Itch Rocks. We are delighted to report that it is a worthy successor and having devoured it over a few days we can’t wait for the next in the series.

Itchingham Lofte’s life has changed dramatically since his disposal of the “rocks” and he and his family are now under constant surveillance and even have security personnel living with them as well as next door! Any hopes of Itch making new friends are dashed by his living in the spotlight and he lives under the constant threat of being kidnapped as he has refused to tell anyone (even the good guys) about the location of element 126.

Itch Rocks is a really gripping, adventure story with lots of twists and turns to keep the reader guessing. As well as introducing some more elements and their more interesting properties, there are more characters to meet all adding to the fun! Never have caesium and bismuth been more appealing…

Oh and one for the girls from Eva who highly recommends Jacqueline Wilson’s latest novel, Queenie.


Hardcover, 410 pages
Published January 31st 2013 by Doubleday Childrens

Review courtesy of Eva aged 9.

Queenie is a heartwarming tale about Elsie Kettle, a girl in 1953, who desperately wants to see the Queen’s Coronation. She lives with her Nan in a little but cosy basement flat. When her Nan gets very poorly, Elsie’s life is turned upside down. Her Mum comes to look after her but when Elsie gets ill, she is taken away from everything she ever knew. Now she will have to make new friends and this leads to a friendship with a majestic white cat called Queenie but will Ever ever be reunited with her Nan?

This is one of Jacqueline Wilson’s historical novels which I especially enjoy. It has a twist in the tale and will keep you gripped until the last page.

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Maggot Moon – Sally Gardner

Posted in Children's Books, YA Fiction on November 23rd, 2012 by admin – 2 Comments

Maggot Moon

Hardcover, 288 pages
Published September 6th 2012 by Hot Key Books
My Rating – a fabulous 5 stars!

Our narrator, the wonderfully named Standish Treadwell, is left bereft when his best friend Hector mysteriously disappears, probably taken by the tyrannical goons of the Motherland – a totalitarian regime where dyslexics like Standish are held in scant regard.  The Motherland is intent on winning the space race, getting to the moon first without caring who gets hurts in the process.  However, what if it was all one big ploy, designed to keep people in their place?  What if someone like Standish, someone perceived to be weak, could debunk the whole scam?
As Standish himself remarks
You see, the what ifs are as boundless as the stars.
Equally boundless, it would appear, is Sally Gardner’s wonderful imagination and ability to draw the reader into another world, a parallel universe not that far removed from our own.  Using simple language she presents a brutal world, a scary place where folk like Standish are not expected to stand up for themselves.  Standish’s neighbourhood, Zone Seven, could be anywhere, any time in history and whilst his day to day life is fraught with danger, he faces the same dilemnas as any teenager – establishing your own identity, forging friendships, learning from your mistakes.
Now shortlisted for the Costa Children’s Book Award 2012, Maggot Moon deserves to become a children’s classic.  Fans of The Curious Incident of The Dog in the Night-Time, My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece and Wonder will love this quirky, engaging novel and will perhaps fall a little in love with Standish, your not so average hero.  Highly recommended for all ages from 12 upwards.

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Fire Spell – Laura Amy Schlitz

Posted in Children's Books on November 21st, 2012 by admin – Be the first to comment

Expect a selection of reviews of children’s books in the run up to Christmas as I have been vetting a few for Luke and Eva and I always like to know what they’re getting when they open a book…plus I enjoy them too. :-)  This one is destined for Eva who is a little bookworm so she will love it.  I wouldn’t recommend it for reluctant readers as it is a fairly hefty tome at almost 400 pages and it would bore Luke silly but then he’s 12 and he hates fantasy unless there are zombies…

Fire Spell

Paperback, 400 pages
Published September 13th 2012 by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
My Rating – 4 stars – almost there!
Set in Victorian London in 1860, Fire Spell will appeal to young readers with a penchant for magical adventure and fantasy. Clara Wintermute comes from a wealthy but rather melancholy family, not surprising given that all her siblings were wiped out by cholera. She longs for some excitement in her life and this comes in the shape of the puppeteer, Grisini, a Fagin-like character and his young urchin assistants, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall (the Artful Dodger?). Unfortunately, in true Victorian melodrama style, all does not bode well and Clara ends up imprisoned in the body of a puppet while Grisini engages in magical and mental battle with the aged witch Cassandra. Will Clara ever return to human form? Can Lizzie Rose and Parsefall help her whilst evading the clutches of their evil master? Does Cassandra have a human heart after all?

Yes, it’s all rather melodramatic but extremely good fun and reminiscent of the adventures of E Nesbit’s characters with touches of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and The Graveyard Book as well as a pinch of Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart Trilogy. Targeted at the 9-12 age group, at almost 400 pages, I think it’s perhaps only suitable for very confident readers in the younger age bracket but it is an enjoyable romp of a read for anyone who enjoys an exciting, magical, well plotted story with no great surprises en route.

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Luke and Eva’s Christmas Book Bundles

Posted in Children's Books on November 19th, 2012 by admin – 6 Comments

Santa gets the bulk of my children’s Christmas presents, this year a Google Nexus 7 and X Box are the main items in demand, but there is always a big book bundle from us to balance out the gadgetry.  This year I have economised “slightly” by including some books I have requested from the Amazon Vine Review Programme and have, as usual, focused more on non-fiction for 12 year old Luke but judicious spending of Tesco Clubcard vouchers and converting Nectar points into Amazon vouchers has ensured a bumper book bonanza.

Nine year old bibliophile Eva should relish the following -

White Dolphin

Fire Spell

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: the Third Wheel

Back to Blackbrick

She is currently half way through the Harry Potter series so I think she will enjoy the next part of the bundle….

The Hogwarts Library Boxed Set

and of course Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a couple of annuals…

Moshi Monsters Official Annual 2013 - Moshi Monsters

If I thought Rainbow Fairies were addictive, then I was very, very wrong…these little things bring out the hoarder in my daughter.  Unfortunately I have passed on the hoarding gene!

Of course, since we are up to date on everything published by Jacqueline Wilson, we have to include the Jacqueline Wilson annual while we await publication of her next book, Queenie, which is due out February 2013.

Jacqueline Wilson Annual 2013

Meanwhile, Luke will hopefully enjoy a mix of fiction and non-fiction including

Black Arts: The Books of Pandemonium


Black Arts looks like something I’ll enjoy too as it is set in Elizabethan times and involves sorcery and time travel (the Time Riders series is one of Luke’s favourites) and we both like a well told post-apocalyptic tale so Earthfall ticks all the right boxes too.

Meanwhile in non-fiction we have

The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe

(Special Forces - the Ultimate Guide to Survival) By Robert Stirling (Author) Paperback on (Oct , 2011)

I think I am more likely to snaffle the Science book rather than the soldier one!

And of course some annuals too…

Angry Birds Annual 2013 (Annuals 2013)

Doctor Who Official Annual 2013

Whilst I have a very basic knowledge of Angry Birds, apart from the marauding magpies who clomp all over our roof every morning at a ridiculously early hour,  we are all big fans of the Doctor and will be glued to the screen for the Christmas special.

So, I’d better get the wrapping paper out!  This year, Bry and I are not giving each other presents as we don’t really need anything but the best present of all is seeing the looks of excitement on the children’s faces on Christmas Morning…and I do love a bit of corny Christmas crooning.

Do you love giving books to others at Christmas?  That reminds me, I must get my thinking cap  on and sort out my usual book hamper as part of my Mother In Law’s present – the only provisos are no sex, no profane language and no hardbacks – I love a challenge! :-)

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Operation Bunny – Wings & Co – Sally Gardner

Posted in Children's Books, Eva's Books on October 31st, 2012 by admin – Be the first to comment

Operation Bunny - Wings & Co

Published  04/10/2012
Publisher Orion Children’s Books
Source – Amazon Vine
My Rating – for 7/8- youngish 12 – 5 stars

I have read and enjoyed many of Sally Gardner’s novels including those targeted at the Young Adult market. I’m delighted to see her return her attentions to the 7-12 age group as my children loved her Magical Children Series.

This is the first in a series of books about Wings & Co, a fairy detective agency resurrected by Emily Vole, a young girl who has had a lot to deal with in her short life so far – abandoned as a baby at Stansted Airport in a hat box, adopted by emotionally challenged wannabes, condemned to a life of drudgery. However, hope comes in the shape of Miss String and Fidget…I won’t spoil the story by saying any more. Suffice to say, Operation Bunny has Sally Gardner’s usual humour, charm, pace and overall feeling of whimsy which will spellbind young readers.

Suitable for independent readers from age 7 upwards, probably aimed more at girls than boys, Operation Bunny is a beautifully written, original story complemented perfectly by David Roberts’ quirky illustrations.

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Ketchup Clouds – Annabel Pitcher

Posted in Children's Books, YA Fiction on October 29th, 2012 by admin – 2 Comments

Ketchup Clouds

My Rating – 5 stars

Source – Amazon Vine

Publication date information seems to vary with the ARC stating 8th November 2012, Amazon saying 27th December 2012 and other blogs mentioning Spring 2013…

Annabel Pitcher’s debut novel My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece was one of my favourite reads of 2011 so I have been keenly anticipating her second novel, hoping that it would engage me and move me in a similar way. Well, it’s a very different type of novel but I’m delighted to report that it packs the same punch as its predecessor.

The novel is composed of a series of letters written by a fifteen year old British girl and addressed to Stuart Harris, a prisoner on Death Row in Texas. Initially, she is cautious about revealing her identity and location, writing under the pseudonym “Zoe” and living in Fiction Road. Ironically “Zoe” feels that she and Stuart have something in common – he having murdered his wife and she feeling responsible for the death of a boy she knew. So she sneaks out to the garden shed at night, hoping to somehow exorcise her guilt by confessing to a stranger.

We never hear directly from Stuart but there is quite enough going on in day to day life as well as “Zoe’s” gradual revelation of the events of the past year – May 1st is the first anniversary of the boy’s death. The author succeeds in weaving an intriguing tale of family relationships, the intensity of young love, the angst of the teenager as well as keeping the readers on the edge of their seats wondering who died and who is to blame.

Annabel Pitcher has captured the teenage voice and tone perfectly in a very natural and easy way. All of the characters are fully fleshed and extremely credible from the bickering parents feeling the stress of financial worry and the pressure of caring for elderly parents to the precocious middle child who feels ever so slightly neglected. It all flows beautifully and even though I’m not usually a big fan of romance, I felt the strength and intensity of “Zoe”‘s emotions with a conclusion which moved me to tears. You’ll laugh and cry in equal measure and, if you’re slightly older like myself, you will breathe a blessed sigh of relief that you’re no longer a teenager.

It certainly doesn’t look as if Annabel has suffered much from second novel syndrome as her writing is going from strength to strength, increasing in confidence, engaging you from the first word and keeping you enthralled – I’m already looking forward to her next novel!

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