It must be Christmas!

Well, for the last couple of months we have been showered by lists of books that we should be reading this Christmas and I thought that as in previous years I will pick a few of the ones that I have really enjoyed.  Yet again it has been quite a bumper year for Christmas stories and this year they cover a large range of genres as well as age ranges.  So let us start with those for what is now termed the ‘independent’ reader.

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Puffin, 978-0141369723

“Mistletoe and Murder” by Robin Stevens is the latest in her series about the two young sleuths Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong.  I have been an avid reader of all her works and this definitely lives up to the superb standard of the others.  Daisy and Hazel find themselves spending Christmas in a Cambridge college and then they become embroiled in a murder enquiry which really tests their skills.  Robin Stevens has used her love of ‘Golden Age’ crime to link this story to the works of Dorothy L Sayers and in particular to ‘Gaudy Night’ which is set in an Oxford College.  As the girls might say, this is a “really spiffing read”.

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Macmillan, 978-1509832583

“The Road to Ever After” by Moira Young is a total change from her earlier work and is for a slightly younger audience.  It is the story of young  Davy David who scrapes out a living in the  small  town of Brownvale and re-creates pictures of angels on the ground.  Life changes when the mysterious Miss Flint hires him to driver her to an unknown house on the coast, despite the fact that he is only 13 years and cannot drive.  What follows is a magical journey, with unexpected consequences. There is a sense of being on a quest as well as there being a nod in the direction of “A Wonderful Life”.  This is a story to re-read and treasure and I know it will be with me for a long time.

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Canongate, 978-1782118572

“The Girl who saved Christmas” by Matt Haig is the follow on to last year’s best seller “A Boy called Christmas”.  Whilst the central character  is still Father Christmas, this book is set at a later period.  People are beginning to not believe in Father Christmas and the magic is starting to disappear.  It needs someone who really believes, to save the day; but even she is beginning to have doubts.

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Nosy Crow, 978-0857636386

“Murder in Midwinter” by Fleur Hitchcock.  When Maya thinks she might have seen a murderer, the police send her to stay with her aunt in Wales.  But the danger follows her in this exciting story.

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Puffin, 9780141373324

“The Christmasaurus” by Tom Fletcher is about a dinosaur searching for his identity and a young boy who loves dinosaurs and Christmas; add a nasty villain to the mix and get set for a fantastically magical adventure

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Simon & Schuster, 9781471159800

“Winter Magic” edited by Abi Elphinstone is a collection of seasonal stories curated by Abi.  the authors are a range of the top children’s writers that are in the UK today.  They include Piers Torday, Michelle Magorian, Jamila Gavin and Lauren St John.  There is bound to be something for everyone in this collection

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Hodder, 9781444926491

“Santa Claude” by Alex T. Smith.  When Claude accidentally locks Santa in handcuffs and can’t find the key (don’t ask)  he faces the problem of trying to deliver all of the presents himself.  This is a great story for those who are just beginning to read by themselves or who want to share with others.

 

With picture books we are always inundated by a host of new titles every year, however there are also some favourites that make a welcome re-appearance.  I have included some that have come back this year and which I have not written about on previous years.

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Simon & Schuster, 9781442496736

“Click Clack Ho! Ho! Ho!” by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin.  This is the Christmas offering about the animals on farmer Brown’s farm and how they ‘cope’ with Christmas Eve and the arrival of Santa. As usual it is extremely funny and will be a great read.

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Scholastic, 9781407109053

“The Lion, the Unicorn and Me” by Jeanette Winterson and Rosalind MacCurrach.  This is a truly beautiful rendering of the Christmas story which really touches the heart.  A absolute classic of the future.

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Floris books, 9781782502944

“Mary’s Little Donkey” by Gunhild Sehlin and Helene Muller.  This is a story of the Nativity for younger Children.  It is translated from the Swedish and then it has been abridged.  The illustrations are sympathetic to the tale and evoke the feel of the occasion.  A lovely version to read to young children.

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Puffin, 9781780080116

“Otto the Book Bear in the Snow” by Katie Cleminson is the magical story of two book bears whose book is borrowed from the library and then left whilst the readers go on holiday.  But the bears need to get back to the library for the Christmas party, unfortunately things do not go as planned, so will they get back in time?

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Puffin, 9780141373706

“Dream Snow” by Eric Carle.  A delicious little lift the flap book about preparing for Christmas on a farm.  It is great for recognizing the animals and getting into the festive spirit.

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OUP, 9780192747372

“Winnie and Wilbur meet Santa” by  Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul. When Santa gets stuck in Winnie’s chimney he asks her and Wilbur to help him deliver the rest of the presents.  They have a great adventure but also lots of problems, so in the end Winnie uses a bit of magic to make sure that all the presents are delivered.  As always the illustrations are sumptuous and this time there is a pop-up at the back, which is sure to be a great hit with everyone.  I particularly like the use of Greek for names etc in the pictures, I wonder how many children will recognize the language?

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Bloomsbury, 9781408859155

“Robin’s Winter Song” by Suzanne Barton is a beautiful story of the Robin discovering Winter for the first time and seeing what a great time he can have with his friends.  The illustrations are positively jewel-like and add to the sense of joy and excitement about the time of year.

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Walker books, 9781406365955

“The Christmas Eve Tree” by Delia Huddy and Emily Sutton is the story of a small and unloved Christmas tree that was saved from destruction by a young  homeless boy and of the joy at Christmas as people gather around the tree to sing carols and to forget the problems of their everyday life.  The ending shows that there is always hope and we need to believe in the goodness of people around us.  There are beautiful illustrations with a feel of the 1960s to them, which really adds to the atmosphere of the story.

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Simon & Schuster, 9781471119989

“The Storm Whale in Winter” by Benji Davies is the second story about a young boy called Noi and the young Whale that he had rescued in the summer.  This is a winter’s tale and a wonderful coming together of man and nature to save one another.  It is a simple but very heart warming story.

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Red Fox, 9781782955504

“Lucy and Tom at Christmas” by Shirley Hughes have, together with “Alfie’s Christmas”, become symbols of what we might call a traditional Christmas.  It was first published in 1981 and the world has changed a great deal since then.  However the story gives a lovely sense of family, friendship and the meaning of the occasion.  Sometimes it is nice to wallow in nostalgia and think of the simple enjoyments of life.

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David Fickling, 9781910200803

“Coming Home” by Michael Morpurgo and Kerry Hyndman (illust.)  is the story of a Robin as he migrates to his winter home, all the time thinking about his partner who should be waiting for him.  It is full of trials and tribulations but also kindness and hope.  Definitely a story full of the meaning of  Christmas.

 

I can’t believe it is only a week until the big day but I am sure that there is still time to do a bit of reading or to get some stocking fillers for the family.  I know I will be reading some of these stories to my grandson when he comes to visit and i might even treat myself to a re-read of one or two favourite stories.  The Christmas season has definitely started as I was telling Christmas stories in my local primary school last week and I have also been to a performance of Messiah.  There is just “The Muppet Christmas Carol” to go and then all will be ready.  Have a wonderful Christmas everyone and enjoy your reading.

 

Welcome to 2016

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Chicken House, 9781910002704

M G Leonard is causing quite a stir with her first book “Beetle Boy” and the attention is very well deserved.  this is the story of Darkus, who has been living with his uncle since his father disappeared. He discovers mysterious goings on next door, including the presence of thousands of exotic beetles.  There are villains and heroes, some of them very unlikely but it really is a cracking story and is set to be a real favourite.  I am lucky enough to be taking her to a couple of schools towards the end of March, so photos will follow hopefully

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Katharine Woodfine

The case of the Jewelled Moth” by Katherine Woodfine is the second in her series featuring the young staff of “Sinclair’s” store in Oxford Street.  This time they are caught up with debutantes and members of London’s China Town as they fight against the villainous character called “The Baron” and try to recover a brooch containing a sacred jewel from China.  As before, there is a real sense of time and place about the book and the characters are growing stronger as the series progresses.  Now I just have to wait for another year until the third title comes out. (NG)

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OUP, 978-0192739384

Nancy Parker’s Diary of Detection” by Julia Lee is a wonderful look at life in the 1930s, but from the perspective of a young girl called Nancy in her first job as a housemaid, but dreaming of becoming a great detective.  Once again we have a nod towards themes from Poirot novels, but this is more rooted in the reality of life for many working class people of the day.  Nancy has lots of dreams but discovers that she will need to work hard to overcome the barriers that she faces.  I am looking forward to reading more about this strong charactered young lady.

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Chicken House, 978-1910002513

“The Great Chocoplot” by Chris Callaghan (illustrated by Lalalimola) is enough to give palpitations to all chocolate loving people.  What would you do if it looked like the world is about to run out of chocolate and Cacao beans were no longer available?  There is a dastardly villain and a heroine called Jelly (Jennifer) who has to undertake a lot of investigations in order to save the world and chocolate.  This is a adventurous and funny story, best read with a chocolate treat at the ready.

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OUP, 9780192743558

“Electrigirl” by Jo Cotterill (Illustrated by Cathy Brett) is an original and exciting story.  It is partially a novel, but interspersed with sections of graphic comic, beautifully illustrated by Cathy Brett.  Holly was just an ordinary girl until the day she was hit by lightening and suddenly found herself with superpowers, with the ability to use the electricity in her body to perform amazing feats.  However there is an evil professor who wants to transfer all of that power to herself, meaning that Holly has a fight on her hands, not only to save herself but also to save the world.  A new super heroine is born.

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Walker books, 978-1406358964

“The Dark Days Club” by Alison Goodman is a new historical novel for teens, but with a large slice of the Gothic and a lot of vampires and other worldly creatures who ‘feed’ on the human world.  Lady Helen discovers that she is part of the small select band of people who are fighting to preserve civilization and she has to decide whether to follow her destiny, or to live a normal society life.  This is a really great story for those who in a previous generation would have been reading Georgette Heyer and who do read Jane Austen.  There is a mix of romance, excitement, and a story-line that keeps you hooked.  The historical background feels real and accurate and I look forward to reading the next set of adventures featuring this character.

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Faber and Faber, 978-0571325252

“Rebel of the Sands” by Alwyn Hamilton is a fantastic new story where the Arabian Nights meets the  Wild West.  When Amani tries to escape the idea of a forced marriage, after the death of her mother, she faces dangers that she had never dreamed of.  It is a teen novel that is full of magic and mystery, where science and myths conflict and the heroine must come to terms with who she is and the legacy she has been born with.  if this is anything to go by then this will be a really cracking and original series.  (NG)

I hope these will give you a taste of the fantastic offerings that are hitting the shelves in the months up to Easter.  Needless to say I am working my way through some more really amazing titles at the moment.

As always many thanks to the publishers and to Netgalley  (NG) for being so generous with titles.

Return to Cheltenham

For the first time in about 10 years I decided to pay a visit to the “Book it” section of the Cheltenham Literature Festival.  This was mainly because I could not fit in all the authors I wanted to see at Bath (I was on duty) and also because it was announced that the amazing Jane Churchill would be stepping down from her role as children’s coordinator at the end of this year.

I decided on the second Sunday of the event because Bath was over and there were several panels of writers that I wanted to see.  Perhaps the nicest thing about the Cheltenham venue is that it is in the Town Hall and on the green, which enables little activities to be taking place outside.  There was a real buzz about the place as children enjoyed learning circus skills, face painting and various other craft subjects.  Luckily the weather was fine and there was a really wonderful atmosphere.

the day started of with a session by Gillian Cross and Sally Nicholls talking about their books  “Shadow Cat” and “An Island of their own”.  The first story is about two young people brought together by circumstances and who form a common bond as they try and save a captive Serval and the second book is about a group of three siblings who are left some jewelry by an elderly aunt, but the catch is that she has hidden it and they have to go on a search.  It was great to hear two such talented writers speaking about their plots and how they came up with their stories.

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Holly Webb and Kate Saunders

I then attended a fascinating session by Holly Webb and Kate Saunders about their respective books which carry on two very famous classic novels.  Holly has written “Return to the Secret Garden”, whilst Kate has given us “Five Children on the Western Front”.  Both books have  a wartime setting, the Western front being WWI and the Secret Garden featuring refugees in WWII.  They are definitely  worth having a read of and provide an added perspective on times gone by.  I have just started reading Holly’s book but I read Kate’s book a while ago and it is a superb read, having been nominated for several awards..

 

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Shoo Rayner

The book tent was full of authors signing books for their fans and I was lucky enough to meet up with Shoo Rayner and then saw Tracey Corduroy and Michael Morpurgo from a distance.  Shoo had been talking about his new book “Dragon White“, which follow on from the previous title “Dragon Gold” and links a modern story with the myths of Wales and Merlin.  It is a similar theme to that used by Sarah Mussi in her book “Here be Dragons”, although her work is for a teen audience.  Shoo’s dragons are great for the younger confident reader.

 

 

 

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Katherine Woodfine

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Robin Stevens

My final event was one that had sold out and several of my friends were quite envious, it felt like having a ‘Golden Ticket’.  This was with Robin Stevens and Katherine Woodfine, both of whom have written brilliant books that I have mentioned in several blogs already.  They are “First Class Murder”, the third in the Wells and Wong mystery series and “The mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow”, the first in a series.  There was great elation when they both announced that new titles will be published in February and March 2016.  From Robin we will see “Jolly Foul Play”  and from Katherine it will be  “The mystery of the Jewelled Moth“.  I can’t wait to read both of them.  There is quite an interest in mixing history and mysteries and these two writers are  excellent examples of the sub-genre.

I must admit that I came away from this day in a bit of a golden glow.  There were so many lovely friends that I had seen and had a chat to as well as listening to some fascinating authors.  Most of all these festivals remind us that there are huge numbers of enthusiastic young readers out there, we just need to make sure that they are being shown books that they will enjoy.  I definitely think that Cheltenham is back on my map, even though my heart is in Bath.

A basket of Autumn delight

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Scholastic, 9781407158549

“Poppy Pym and the Pharaoh’s curse” by Laura Wood is an exciting mix of school story, circuses and Egyptian curses.  We have a delightful heroine who is sent off to school having been brought up in a circus.  However something does not seem quite right at the school and when it hosts an exhibition of ancient Egyptian artifacts strange things happen, not least the theft of one of the treasures.  How Poppy and her circus family, as well as her new friends at school, solve the mystery makes for a great start to this new series.

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OUP, 9780192742759

“Railhead” by Philip Reeve has been eagerly awaited by his many fans who loved his earlier steam punk and dystopian novels.  This new work is set in future worlds which are connected by the railways that can traverse time and space.  It is a truly fantastic concept and allows for the hero Zen to be a flawed character who is just aiming to get through life as a small time thief.  His big love is riding the rails and keeping one step ahead of the law, wherever he finds it, but then one day the mysterious raven asks him to steal an object that will put them and the worlds they inhabit in great danger.

Robin Stevens has brought us another sizzling escapade from her sleuthing duo Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong.  Entitled “First Class Murder” this is a true ‘homage’ to Agatha Christie and in particular ‘Murder on the Orient Express’.  The duo find themselves on board the famed train, together with Hazel’s father, who is not impressed by their detecting,  The mix of 1930s style and the fascinating cast of characters make this a brilliant read as we try and unravel the motives and opportunities for murder.  these are rapidly becoming new classics of the genre.

Another new addition to the detective genre is Katherine Woodfine with her tale of “The mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow”, based in a new London department store as it opens its doors to the public at the height of the Edwardian period.  The heroine Sophie comes from a well-to-do background but has fallen on hard times, luckily she has got a job as a shop assistant at the brand new “Sinclair’s”.  She and some new found friends soon find themselves mixed up in mystery and adventure with plots surrounding the fantastic jewelled sparrow owned by Mr Sinclair and also deeper political goings on in the lead up to the first world war.  This is the first in the series and I look forward to the next offering.

“The Potion Diaries” by Amy Alward (with thanks to Netgalley).  this is a great story of potion makers and dark magic, where the heroine is joined by the handsome son of her greatest rival in trying to source the ingredients to save the princess from a terrible fate.  There  is lots of action, great characters and lessons to be learnt in this really excellent story.

Terry Pratchett’s “The Shepherd’s Crown” is the final volume in the sequence following the life of Tiffany Aching, but it is also the long awaited final work from the greatly loved author who died earlier this year.  It is difficult to go too deeply into the plot without spoiling it for someone who has not read the book, however I will try and give some details.  For those who are fans, it is lovely to see so many favourite characters, from the “Wee Free Men” and  Granny Weatherwax to Nanny Ogg and Ridcully(the Arch chancellor).  This is about Tiffany coming of age as a witch and about major changes that are happening both in the Discworld and in the Faerie land; these mean great challenges for our heroine and she has to make some momentous decisions.  As always there are plenty of things to make us think in this story and it is a fitting finale to our love affair with Discworld.  I will just have to read them all over again.

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Nosy Crow, 9780857634245

“Witchmyth” by Emma Fischel and Chris Riddell, is the second in the series starring young Flo, a thoroughly modern witch who uses modern methods of witchcraft.  However her grandmother, who has moved in with the family likes to do everything in the old fashioned way, which of course leads to lots of interesting situations.  In this book Flo begins to think that the Hagfiend (a character from folk tales) might be real and she might just be trying to make a come back.

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Usborne, 9781409580379

“Knitbone Pepper: ghost dog” by Claire Barker and Ross Collins.  this is a really brilliant little book for the younger confident reader.  It is the story of Winnie and her parents who own Starcross Hall, but who look as if they are about to lose it because of trickery and evil doing by a council official and a ghost hunter.  Knitbone is the beloved pet dog who has died but finds himself still at the hall because of his intense loyalty and love for Winnie and the family.  How they and their other ghostly friends prevent disaster makes for a fun filled story.

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OUP, 980192734570

“Pugs of the frozen north” by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre.  this is yet another hysterical story by the collaborating duo of Reeve and McIntyre (sounds a bit like a comedy duo).  this time we have ship’s boy Shen and his new friend Sika trying to take part in a race to the far north in order to win a promise from the Snow Father.  The problem is that they only have 66 pugs to pull their sleigh and the other competitors have much stronger animals. However this is a story with a little bit of magic and it is amazing what you can do with the right spirit.  As always the mix of pictures and story make this a really superb book for the 7+ age group.

“The rest of us just live here” by Patrick Ness.  Well what is there to say about another book by this award wining author.  I was lucky enough to go to the launch and have written a separate post about the event and the book.  I just want to say that it is a “must read” for all of you out there.  It is full of drama, adventure and yet strong feelings about family and friendship.

Walker, 9781406367478

Walker, 9781406367478

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