New review: Greta Zargo by A.F Harrold illustrated by Joe Todd-Stanton

It’s always exciting to read the first book in a new series – but even more so when the book is by A F Harrold, a fantastic writer of books and poems.  Greta Zargo doesn’t disappoint with a mystery to solve, lots of silliness, some helpful anecdotes and immensely likeable characters,  it really is just a great book for children to read.

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Greta Zargo and the Death Robots from Outer Space by A F Harrold illustrated by Joe Todd-Stanton

Greta Zargo doesn’t know it, but she is the only one who can save planet earth from the death robots coming to destroy it! But right now, she’s a bit busy finding out who stole all the cakes! Warning: this book contains robots, peanuts, squirrels, trousers, an eleven-year-old spelling mistake, baths and, yes, lots of cake!

There’s not much for an intrepid would-be junior reporter to, well, report on, in Upper Lowerbridge, to create an award-winning, summer holiday story.  So Greta Zargo has to settle for finding a cake-thief, little realising that the real scoop is the planet-conquering robots making their way towards earth.  Greta’s no ordinary eleven-year old having been orphaned and left to fend for herself since the age of eight. She is determined to discover the culprit, working her way through a list of suspects – some of whom are not impressed to find themselves being questioned!  Meanwhile, the strange silvery robots approach, intent on finding The Great Zargo to ask if they can have planet earth in order to add data to the Harknow-Bumfurly-Histlock Big Book of Galactic Facts.  A small spelling error puts Greta unwittingly in place to save Earth from a terrible fate.  Will she succeed?

Fun and full of imagination, Greta Zargo is a fantastic sci-fi mystery adventure.  The two narratives of cake thievery and death-defying space robots run alongside each other brilliantly; aided by quirky and humorous anecdotal notes at the side of the page. Greta is a feisty character, with admirable determination, encouraged by her very eccentric and rather wonderful Aunt Tabitha, who I loved. Greta’s journalistic efforts are put to the test by an amusing cast of characters – including a giant squirrel!  The space sequences are hugely imaginative and full of impressive technical jargon and madcap space names. Although comical, it’s somewhat bittersweet as various weird and wonderful aliens inadvertently allow the complete destruction of their planets – perhaps a lesson for us all.   Illustrations throughout capture the quirkiness of the tale and help to create a really engaging, warm-hearted story.  I won’t give away the ending, but how refreshing  – how very polite death robots can be…!

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Find out more at www.afharroldkids.com and http://joetoddstanton.com/

With thanks to Bloomsbury Books for sending me this book to review

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New reviews: A great spooky duo from Bloomsbury Books!

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Autumn publishing from Bloomsbury kids books has been pretty impressive!  I have a pile of great early to middle grade reads, some of which I’ve already featured in the last month and some which are to come. 

Today, I’m focusing on two quite different middle grade books with a spooky feel, making them great October reads and perfect to keep children entertained over half term!

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Witch Snitch A Witch Wars Adventure by Sibéal Pounder illustrated by Laura Ellen Anderson

It’s Tiga’s first Witchoween – when everyone celebrates how brilliant witches are! Peggy has asked Tiga and Fran to make a documentary about Sinkville’s most famous witches, with Fluffanora helping out as wardrobe director. The intrepid film crew delve into every hidden corner of Sinkville and find mouldy jam, microcats and an astonishing amount of cake, but Tiga can’t help but feel there’s something going on behind her back…

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Book of the Month: Spectre Collectors: Too Ghoul for School by Barry Hutchison

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Our Book of the Month this October is the brilliant first book in a new series Spectre Collectors: Too Ghoul for School written by Barry Hutchison, illustrated by Rob Biddulph and published by Nosy Crow.  Barry Hutchison is an award-winning children’s author and screenwriter. A lifelong fan of funny books, Barry loves making readers laugh with his unique brand of comedy and is particularly passionate about encouraging reluctant boys to pick up a book. I can guarantee Spectre Collectors will do just that and what’s more will no doubt entertain all those who read it!

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Spectre Collectors: Too Ghoul for School

by Barry Hutchison illustrated by Rob Biddulph

Denzel is having no luck with his maths homework. First, it’s too difficult, then there’s a terrifying mess of smoky black tendrils that wants to kill him, then two teenagers explode through his window holding guns and throwing magic. They are the Spectre Collectors, and spooky is their speciality.  Realising that Denzel has a special gift, they sweep him off to their headquarters for training. Tested with awesome weapons and ancient magic, Denzel realises just how little he knows. But there’s a serious problem on its way from the Spectral Realm, so Denzel has a lot to learn. FAST.

Denzel is an ordinary 13 year old. Or so he thought.  After seeing a ghost in his bedroom, all manner of mad things start to happen. Attacked by ghosts and recused by two seemingly crazy teenagers, Boyle and Samara, soon Denzel finds himself in the hands of the Spectre Collectors.  It’s no surprise that things aren’t what they seem when dealing with the supernatural, but Denzel’s unique powers give him an insight no-one else believes.  His quirky best friend Smithy can’t help him and although he wants to believe he has a vital role to play, Denzel feels something just isn’t right. Especially when Director Quinn, the head of the organisation shows how ruthless she is. Denzel soon finds it’s not just the ghosts he’s got to worry about!

Spectre Collectors: Too Ghoul for School is a fantastic adventure with twists galore and a great cast of characters guaranteed to keep readers entertained. The story has real heart too – Denzel loses his parents and finds out just what friendship really means, whilst trying to save the world. I thoroughly enjoyed the action sequences, some of which were laugh out loud funny.  With gadgets galore and some maniacal monsters, it’s a brilliant mix of magic, mayhem and some amazing modern technology. Denzel and his friend Smithy make a great double act, with some hilarious dialogue and are hugely likeable.  The story has an imaginative plot, clever twists and a fast paced narrative which will have readers hooked.  A really entertaining middle grade book with great artwork by Rob Biddulph, Spectre Collectors is sure to be a hit – and makes a suitably spooky autumn read!

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Find out more at www.barryhutchison.com and www.robbiddulph.com

With thanks to Nosy Crow for sending me this book to review.

New Review: You Can’t Make Me Go To Witch School! by Em Lynas illustrated by Jamie Littler

Em Lynas writes stories and poems for children aged 5 to 12 years. You Can’t Make Me Go To Witch School! is her fantastic debut novel, published by Nosy Crow and illustrated by Jamie Littler. A perfect combination of lively narrative and marvellous illustrations that bounce off the page, this was a thoroughly enjoyable read!

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You Can’t Make Me Go To Witch School! By Em Lynas illustrated by Jamie Littler

Daisy Wart is NOT a witch! She is an ACTRESS!  And actresses do NOT go to witch school! So when she finds herself at Toadspit Towers, sleeping in a swinging cauldron (surprisingly comfortable) and eating gloop (unsurprisingly disgusting), she vows to escape at all costs.  But how can she get past the TOADSPIT TERRORS that lurk in the corridors? And what if she REALLY IS a witch? Maybe even the WITCHIEST WITCH of them all?

Daisy Wart is furious when her Granny leaves her at Toadspit Towers boarding school for witches. Adamant that she is not a witch and determined to escape, so she can prove her thespian abilities in her school play, Daisy hatches an escape plan. And another, and another….all of which are doomed to fail! Stuck in a dormitory with the irritating Dominique, Best and Brightest Witch in the school, the longer Daisy spends at Toadspit, the more the mystery surrounding her ancestry unfolds.  Not only this, the school has a few mysteries of its own and it seems Daisy’s escape is tied up with the fate of Toadspit. With two new friends to help her, Daisy gathers all her courage and ingenuity to once and for all prove she is not a witch….!

You Can’t Make Me Go To Witch School! is a fantastic story, full of humour and original, fun magical details that will delight readers.  I particularly liked the school reward system – magical ticks giving students the ability to ‘buy’ treats (I’d love to be able to do this at my school!) A lively cast of characters include Mrs Toadspit the resident ghost and headmistress; Mrs Thorn, a teacher with looks that cold ‘shrivel’; Jess and Shalini, Daisy’s friends; and of course a variety of magical creatures from hooting owls, carnivorous plants to magical wooden cats! I particularly enjoyed Ms Lobelia the singing/gardening expert (wonderfully drawn by Jamie Littler).

Daisy who is a loveable but somewhat feisty girl has to quickly learn how to fit in at her new school and make friends, something many readers will identify with – although I don’t imagine many readers sleep in swinging cauldrons! Jamie Littler’s fantastic Illustrations bring to life the humour and magic of the story and as the plot thickens, there are some brilliantly described edge of your seat moments. There is a slightly unexpectedly gruesome moment as the story climaxes to watch out for with younger readers, but I’m sure You Can’t Make Me Go To Witch School! will be a hit with all who read it and they’ll be clamouring for the next in the series!

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Find out more at www.emlynas.weebly.com.

With thanks to Nosy Crow for sending me this book to review!

 

New review: Help! I’m a Genius by Jo Franklin

More fun and hilarity is to be had in this second instalment of the Help! series featuring Daniel and friends written by Jo Franklin.  After the success of  Help! I’m an Alien and like all true aliens, Jo is well on the way to achieving her dream of world domination!

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Help! I’m a Genius by Jo Franklin with illustrations by Aaron Blecha

Daniel Kendal has the smallest brain in his family and the smallest brain in the world. He knows absolutely nothing about anything. Everyone is shocked when he is mistaken for a genius and selected to compete in the National Brainiac Championships. What can a pea-brain like Daniel do to avoid making a fool of himself? And will his friends Freddo and Gordon the Geek help him?

Daniel thinks he has no chance when by a strange twist of fate he ends up representing his school in the National Brainiac Championships, an inter-schools contest.  After all, he’s nothing like his super-clever parents or his best friend Gordon the Geek.  And it’s Gordon and his other best friend Freddo who he turns to for help with hilarious results.  From a disgusting diet regime (radioactive pond weed anyone?) to a skull-stretching device (to make room for a bigger brain of course…) the three friends try everything to fill Daniel’s brain with facts, to no avail. Coupled with the news that his family might be moving to America, Daniel’s headaches go from bad to worse! As the date of the competition draws near, Daniel realises he’s just going to have to make a big fool of himself in front of everyone – or rely on his friends to help him cheat!

Laugh-out-loud moments and humiliation abound as Daniel tries to find a way to ‘win’ the competition.  I thoroughly enjoyed meeting the quirky cast of characters again – even Freddo with his interesting bodily functions! We see more of Daniel’s family who still drive him mad –and the daily dilemmas he faces feeling like the odd-one-out in his family – something all readers can relate to. There’s even some Dad-dancing brilliantly brought to life by Aaron Blecha’s illustrations which complement the story throughout. It’s not all slapstick though, with the more ‘serious’ thread of the possible relocation of the family to America due to Daniel’s Dad’s new job. This adds greater pressure to Daniel, as his sister Jess is convinced if he wins the competition they’ll be able to stay in England.  The tension mounts and Daniel’s self-awareness may just be the biggest barrier to realising he’s not as dumb as he thinks he is! Help! I’m A Genius is a very funny read and Daniel learns another valuable lesson this time about believing in yourself, even when you don’t feel good enough.  I’m looking forward to the next instalment!

Find out more at www.jofranklinauthor.co.uk . With thanks to Troika for sending me this book to review.

Book of the Month: Prisoner of Ice and Snow by Ruth Lauren

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Introducing a new feature to the website and blog….Book of the Month! And our first choice is a fantastic debut adventure by Ruth Lauren, Prisoner of Ice and Snow, publishing today from Bloomsbury.

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Prisoner of Ice and Snow by Ruth Lauren

Valor is under arrest for the attempted murder of the Crown Prince. Her parents were cast out from the royal court. Her sister was banished for the theft of a national treasure. Now Valor has been sentenced to life at Tyur’ma, a brutal prison built from snow and ice. But that’s exactly where she wants to be: her sister was sent there too, and Valor intends to break her out. From the inside.

No one has escaped Tyur’ma in over three hundred years though, and if Valor is to succeed, she will need all of her strength, courage and love. If her plan fails, Valor faces a fate worse than any prison….

Prisoner of Ice and Snow is set in the fictional land of Demidova. It’s a thrilling adventure featuring Valor, who lives up to her name as a brave and fearless heroine, stopping at nothing to free her twin sister, Sasha.  Sasha has been imprisoned for stealing a music box; an artefact of such importance it can stop impending war.  Meticulously planning her own capture and an impossible escape, Valor’s determination to free her sister is palpable from the first page; even if it means treason against her country and the royal family her parents once served.  Inside the fearsome prison for children, it quickly becomes clear all is not what it seems; Valor finds herself fighting a hidden enemy as well as surviving the brutal regime of the prison run by the ruthless Warden Kirov. Initially not wanting to trust anyone, Valor keeps her counsel and becomes even more determined when she discovers Sasha was framed. The sisters soon realise their fate is tied up with solving the mystery behind the theft as well as finding an escape route.  It seems that luck is not on their side and there is no choice but to put their trust in some of their fellow prisoners and accept help, whatever the motivations might be.

I read this gripping story in one sitting! It’s a fantastic adventure, with a wonderful heroine and great supporting cast. The snow covered landscape of Demidova gives a magical feel to the whole tale and the well-written descriptions create a captivating setting.  In particular the sense of foreboding around the prison is very real – you can almost feel the ice-cold air as you read! The plot is full of intrigue with the importance of the music box and indeed of Valor and her sister becoming more significant with each turn of the page. The over-riding theme of sisterly loyalty is very appealing; Valor and Sasha whilst being twins have distinct personalities and are instantly likeable.  I enjoyed the relationships between Valor and the small group of prisoners caught up in the plot; Feliks is a good contrast to the darker moments with his cheeky sense of humour and the slightly gruff Katia makes a great cellmate for Valor.  The friendships are totally believable and you can just imagine that in those circumstances they are absolutely crucial to surviving.  The more sinister characters are suitably menacing and you find yourself rooting for Valor, Sasha and their friends to defeat them. Edge-of-your-seat action scenes are well described and with a very satisfying ending, this couldn’t be a more enjoyable debut! With a sequel to follow, ‘The Seeker of the Crown’, readers will be captivated by Valor and the kingdom of Demidova.

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Find out more at www.ruthlauren.com.

With thanks to Bloomsbury for sending me this book to review.

New review: Alex Sparrow and the Really Big Stink

Alex Sparrow and the Really Big Stink is the debut novel by Jennifer Killick, published by Firefly Press. Jennifer studied Creative Writing at Brunel University and having always loved stories, has achieved what she thought as a child would be impossible: having a book with her name on it in the shops!  It’s a fantastic middle grade debut and has been chosen as one of the Reading Agency’s Summer Reading Challenge titles.

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Alex Sparrow and the Really Big Stink by Jennifer Killick

Alex Sparrow is a super-agent in training. He is also a human lie-detector. Working with Jess – who can communicate with animals – they must find out why their friends, and enemies, are all changing into polite and well behaved pupils. And exactly who is behind it all. This is a humorous tale full of farts, jokes and superhero references. Oh, and a rather clever goldfish called Bob. In a world where kids’ flaws and peculiarities are being erased out of existence, Alex and Jess must rely on what makes them different to save the day.

Alex Sparrow is a boy whose mission in life is to be a superhero of the secret agent variety (think Nick Fury). He doesn’t share this too much with the boys at school, for fear of losing his ‘friends’.  But Alex’s idiosyncrasies become more obvious when his ear becomes a human lie detector causing horrifically smelly results! Little does Alex realise he’s not the only one who’s been ‘gifted’ a superpower. Jess, a girl at school who he’s never had much to do with, has her own unique power; she can talk to animals with equally odd results.  Together they make a hilarious team. Whilst the rest of the school kids, including Alex’s so-called friends, shun them for being ‘weirdos’ Alex and Jess set about uncovering a dastardly plot led by an evil teacher. Who knew the hidden lives teachers lead?! As you can imagine, this leads to some unusual and action-packed scenarios, featuring everything from a brave and noble goldfish to a fairly irritating pigeon – and lots of twitching and farting.

I particularly loved – and laughed at – Alex’s voice overs narrating their every move, fully immersing himself into a secret-agent-come-superhero guise. Even more amusing was Jess’ reaction to this, given her straight-talking personality and refusal to be anybody’s sidekick!  The banter between Alex and Jess is brilliant and brings each of their characters bouncing to life. The barmy plot keeps you guessing and laughing out loud all the way through. With twists and turns galore, Alex Sparrow is a school comedy caper perfect for kids – and I think lots of grown-ups will enjoy it too. It also brilliantly reminds us that being different is what makes us human and true friends are often found when we least expect it.

Find out more at www.jenniferkillick.com.

With thanks to Firefly Press for sending me this book to review.