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!

Witch Snitch

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…

This is my first encounter with Tiga and friends and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Larger than life characters abound and as the film crew travels through Sinkville we find out all about the witches and their various ‘talents’!  Fran the fairy is quite hilarious and there’s a lot of slapstick humour involving jam and various types of goo. Thankfully with Fluffanora on hand to provide new outfits, Fran and friends don’t stay messy for long.  Tiga is convinced there’s more to this documentary than outrageous outfit swaps and witchy stories…. and she’s not wrong. She needn’t worry though – it looks like Witchoween could be the best celebration ever!

Witch Snitch is definitely a tale focused on the lighter side of magic and witches, which is perfect if you find some elements of witchcraft too spooky.  As a young girl I would have loved these tales. It’s also a celebration of friendship at heart – and fashion, sprinkles, cake and mouldy jam! I particularly liked the suggestions interspersed throughout the book for readers to really embrace the witchy fun; with instructions on everything from how to embellish a Witchoween outfit to making a jam jar party bag.  Gorgeous illustrations by Laura Ellen Andersen add to the magic and mayhem! If you have a budding fashionista at home, and want to encourage creativity as well as reading, this is a perfect book to do just that and a great, fun read.

Try one of the other books in the series:

Find out more at:

www.bloomsbury.com  www.sibealpounder.com and www.lauraellenanderson.co.uk

 

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Maudlin Towers: Curse of the Werewolf Boy by Chris Priestly

Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of Maudlin Towers. Behind the walls of this gloom-laden school, mysterious happenings and strange goings-on are afoot.  It’s up to our intrepid heroes Mildew and Sponge to take on a spot of detectivating and save the day!  Will they succeed?

Mildew and Sponge are shocked when they hear not only has one of their teachers Mr Particle died suddenly, but a precious and ancient artefact, the School Spoon has been stolen! Add to this the ghostly activities of a Viking in the ha-ha and a strange apparition in the attic – Mildew decides it’s time he and Sponge took action. With all the teachers behaving in as deranged a manner as normal, it’s a hard task ahead of them! They begin ‘detectivating’ and soon discover it really isn’t straightforward; especially when you add in the further complications of….a time machine….and of course, a werewolf!! A madcap, hilarious time-warped adventure follows, with Sponge just managing to keep up with Mildew- or is it the other way around?!

This is one of the funniest books I’ve read all year with some of the best dialogue between two protagonists ever; I laughed all the way through.  Mildew and Sponge’s characters are brilliantly brought to life through their conversation and responses.  I reviewed a proof copy of the book so am yet to see the fully illustrated version – which I suspect will bring the story leaping off the page!  But this is a taste of the residents of the school:

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Maudlin Towers is a school for the “Not Particularly Bright Sons of the Not Particularly Wealthy”– a somewhat unhappy, but very amusing premise. Having worked in several boarding schools myself, some of the teaching characters rang very true – especially Mr Stupendo the Games teacher. And what a name! In fact, the entire cast is full of fantastic characters with fantastic names (Hipflask anyone?!).  A clever plot including all the obstacles that time travel can create keeps you on your toes.  With action packed sequences, creepy setting, quite daft ideas and a really rather wonderful friendship, Maudlin Towers is the perfect Gothic read!

Other titles by Chris Priestly include:

Find out more at www.chrispriestleybooks.com and www.bloomsbury.com

With thanks to Bloomsbury for sending me these books to review.

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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.

New Review: The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis

Stephanie Burgis is the author of books for both children and adults.  Born in America, but now resident in the UK, Stephanie has always been an avid reader enjoying stories such as Lord of the Rings and Pride and Prejudice as a young girl. I absolutely loved her stories about Kat Stephenson set in Regency England and I am pleased to say The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart published by Bloomsbury didn’t disappoint!

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis

Aventurine is the fiercest, bravest kind of dragon, and she’s ready to prove it to her family by leaving the safety of their mountain cave and capturing the most dangerous prey of all: a human.

But when the human she captures tricks her into drinking enchanted hot chocolate, she finds herself transformed into a puny human girl with tiny blunt teeth, no fire, and not one single claw. She’s still the fiercest creature in these mountains though – and now she’s found her true passion: chocolate! All she has to do is walk on two feet to the human city, find herself an apprenticeship (whatever that is) in a chocolate house (which sounds delicious), and she’ll be conquering new territory in no time . won’t she?

Aventurine is bored – bored of being stuck in the mountain for another thirty years until her parents say she’s old enough to go out into the world and hunt for herself. So strong are her dreams of freedom, she ignores her mother’s advice that her scales “haven’t hardened enough to withstand a wolf’s bite” and she leaves the safety of the mountain.  Aventurine can’t wait to prove her family wrong, return triumphantly with food and find her true calling (so she can stop her sister and brother driving her mad!). However, little does she realise the challenge that lies ahead of her and as she trips her way down the mountainside, a new smell reaches her nose: CHOCOLATE. Her desire to taste this is her downfall; Aventurine finds herself on two legs instead of four; a twelve year old girl with no wings and certainly no fierce dragon teeth to help her.  She must now find a way to survive, assuage her desire for chocolate and prove just how fierce she still is….

What a delightful story!  The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart instantly reminds you of the magic of stories and the brilliant adventures they can take you on. Aventurine is a wonderful heroine, ably supported by a fantastic and lively cast of characters. I particularly enjoyed Silke, the street-wise girl who has the same feisty spirit as Aventurine and offers her much needed friendship; and Marina the bad-tempered Chocolatier who takes Aventurine on as an apprentice, truly seeing her passion for chocolate.

Not only does Aventurine have to deal with the complexities of ‘being human’ she has to negotiate her way through the multi-cultural town of Drachenburg, which is full of snobbery, devious officials and of course, fear of dragons!  Her adventure is told with much humour and there are some highly entertaining moments where her dragon responses take over. You also learn the intricacy involved in making chocolate; I loved the scenes describing the creation of various sweet treats; you can almost taste them! There are lessons to be learnt and challenges to be faced through all of which you are rooting for Aventurine to succeed. In making the biggest mistake of her life, she finds her true calling as well as some firm friends and a second family.  The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart is the perfect blend of fantasy and adventure; and of course the wonder of chocolate. You won’t want to put this book down!

Find out more at www.stephanieburgis.com  and follow Stephanie on Twitter @stephanieburgis.  With thanks to Bloomsbury for sending me a copy of this book to review.