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.

 

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.

Bath time again!

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An expectant audience

Can it really be a whole year since the last Bath Festival of Children’s Literature, well yes it can.  This year sees the return of John and Gill McLay as the artistic directors.  They founded the festival and nurtured it during the first 6 years of its life, now they are back for year 9.

The events started off with a wonderful talk by the iconic Judith Kerr (pronounced Carr, so we2015-10-01 15.50.43 were informed?) in conversation with Julia Eccleshare.  She spoke about her childhood but also about her many books and in particular her new work “Mr Cleghorn’s Seal” which is based on an event in her father’s earlier life.  After this many of us transferred over to Waterstones for the launch party which was full of lovely authors, illustrators, supporters volunteers and friends of the festival.

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Mamillan, 9781447277897

the next day saw me reporting for duty in my first volunteer session of the year.  I was lucky enough to work on a session by Kristina Stephenson for her “Sir Charlie Stinky Socks and the Pirate’s Curse” which was full of music activity and a wealth of energy.  The children absolutely loved it.  I then had the great pleasure of seeing the Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell talk about his latest book “Goth Girl and the Wuthering Fright” as well as watching his amazing talent as an illustrator.  The queue for book signing was enormous and I was unable to get my book signed as I was booked to go and listen to the amazing Patrick Ness talking about “The rest of us just live here”.  A book that I have written about before.

2015-09-28 15.17.33I must admit to then having a day off in order to catch up on the more mundane things of life, as well as doing a bit of reading.  However on Monday I was off again, this time it was attending a school visit with the lovely Bali Rai.  I have heard him do a short talk at a conference in the past, but this was the first time that I had the pleasure of hearing him work with a young audience.  He absolutely held all of them spellbound, something that is quite difficult with over 100 year 9s and year 11s.  He spoke about writing in general, his background, the influences he finds and also about racism and extremism across a wide spectrum.  I would recommend any school to have him talk to their older pupils.

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Corgi, 9780552570749

2015-10-03 11.13.21The second weekend of the festival I was working on both days, but only half a day on each.  Saturday I worked the morning shift at the Guildhall and was able to see Elen Caldecott and Robin Stevens talking about writing crime for younger audiences.  Elen is a local author and and her latest book is the second in a series ‘Marsh road Mysteries’ and is called “Crowns and Codebreakers”.  Robin has really hit the spot with her wonderful series about the two schoolgirl sleuths Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong and she was talking about the third in the series “A first class Murder” which is a homage to “Murder on the Orient Express”  I also spent some of the morning learning how to draw “Wookies and Droids”, which might come in useful when my grandson is older.  With the next Star Wars film coming to the big screen in 2015-10-03 09.33.19 2015-10-06 21.25.41November this was very well times. I also saw the amazing duo of Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve in the green room as they were about to go to their “Pugs of the Frozen north” event.  I then met them later when they were off to their individual events for “Railhead” and “Dinosaur Police”.

 

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Andersen, 9781783443642

Sunday was the last day of the festival and there were so many events that I would have loved to attend, however I did steward the events for Julian Clary and David Roberts, talking about their book “The Bolds”, which is a great read for those younger confident readers.  they shared the speaking and then David also produced illustrations so that the audience could see how a character is developed.  I then worked on the session with the poet John Hegley – he is 2015-10-04 16.33.05-1really brilliant and it is a major ‘experience’ to hear him speak, play his ukulele  and generally entertain his audience.

The final bit of icing on the cake was meeting Jennifer Donnelly in the Green Room and getting her to sign copies of 2015-10-04 16.59.01her books “Rogue Wave” and “Dark Tide”, the second and third titles in her series about a world with Mer nations and wars for power.

Of course all of this was just the tip of the iceberg and there were so many other fantastic events going on at other venues.  The programme is so varied that there is something for everyone.  For small children there were some favourite authors and illustrators, such as Michael Rosen,  Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler and for teens there was Joe Suggs and Jacqueline Wilson.  If you haven’t been to Bath before, then I suggest you book the dates for next year.

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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A bunch of books for the Spring

The end of January brings the bi-annual listing of new children’s books  from Bookseller magazine.  It is always great to sit and check which of my favourite authors have got a new titles in the next few months.  This latest offering has got me all excited about those books appearing over the next months, but also those that have been appearing in the post for me to look at.  I still think we are  lucky to live at a  time where so much writing and illustration talent is on offer.

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HarperCollins, 978-0007545766

The other week I was lucky enough to be invited to meet new Irish author Shane Hegarty, whose book “Darkmouth” has just been published.  It is a dark and atmospheric book about a small seaside village in Ireland where there exists one of the last doorways between the world of ‘Legends’ and our world.  The hero is a young boy called Finn, who is being trained as a Legend Hunter by his father, but he is not very successful.  It is an action packed story for both boys and girls and there will be more to come in the series.

 

 

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Corgi, 978-0552568531

For those who like their mysteries to be more linked to the modern world then the new book by Amanda Mitchison, called “Crog” might fit the bill. the ‘hero’ Wilf is something of a kleptomaniac, although he steals because he is bored.  A less than inspiring person who has an extremely wealthy father and a very normal sister, he finds himself in real trouble when he steals a bowl from a local museum and the next morning finds a 3000 year old man in his room, who says he has to guard the bowl.  There are great adventures and many
twists in the plot before the truth is discovered. A real page turner for the middle years.

 

 

 

 

 

“Big game” by Dan Smith is a really strong story, which has just been made into a film, starring Samuel L Jackson.  Imagine being out in the snow in Finland, undergoing a trial to prove your manhood, and then finding a crashed escape pod containing the president of the United States. The problem comes when you find there are men out there who want to kill the president – and you.  A great adventure thriller.

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Chicken House, 978-1910002797

 

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Walker books, 978-1406354928

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of my favourite books of the last couple of months is “Julius Zebra: rumble with the Romans”  by Gary Northfield.  This is a hysterical story of the less than brave Julius who is captured by the Romans and ends up fighting in the Colosseum in Rome.  It requires a huge amount of disbelief around the idea of anthropomorphic animals.  There is wonderful humour, mixed with a fair amount of information about gladiators, which will be great for young readers, both boys and girls.

 

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Chicken House

For a young teen audience there is a really heart wrenching book being published by the great Chicken House.  It is called “The Honest Truth” by Dan Gemeinhart and is the story of Mark, a twelve year old who is terminally ill with cancer and decides he is going on one last big adventure while he can.  It is a fantastic story of grit and determination, fighting against the odds and also about the families and friends who care.  I strongly recommend this one.

 

 

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HarperCollins, 978-0007589180

“Scarlet and Ivy” by Sophie Cleverly is a first novel, by one of the graduates from the truly amazing Writing for young people course at Bath Spa.  they have produced some of the best authors of the last few years.  This story is about mysteries and missing people; with all kinds of twists and turns as Ivy tries to find out what has happened to her missing sister.

 

 

 

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OUP, 978-0192737748

For younger readers we have the funny and truly imaginative story of “The Accidental Prime Minister” by Tom McLaughlin.  The premise is totally impossible but it makes for a good read and I think some of the contenders for the real office might learn a thing or to about working for the people, if they read this book to their children.

 

 

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Bloomsbury, 978-1408854136

“The Last of the Spirits” by Chris Priestley is a wonderful re-telling of the story of  “A Christmas carol” but told from the perspective of a destitute boy and his sister.  It is one of those books that just grabs you, and I finished it in one sitting.  It is also going on my list of those books which have to be read every year; probably just after I have watched the ‘Muppet Christmas carol’.

 

 

 

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Hot Key Books, 978-1471404597

“The door that led to Where” by Sally Gardner is yet another real winner  from a truly superb writer.  It is a time travel novel, set in modern and Victorian London, but with the twists and turns that keep you hooked into the story.  The ending seems to give hope that there will be a follow up, I do hope so.

 

 

 

Arsenic for Tea. jpeg

Randomhouse, 978-0552570732

“Arsenic for Tea” by Robin Stevens is the second in the series featuring the girl sleuths  Daisy Wells and  Hazel Wong and set in a Poirotesque time frame.  I have to say that this one kept me guessing and I was really disappointed
when the murderer was announced, because all of the suspects were such nice people, in fact the only nasty person turned out to be the victim.  I have just heard that a contract has been signed for more books by this author and I can’t wait.

 

 

 

 

 

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Curious Fox, 978-1782022527

My last offering is the first in a new series by Vicki Lockwood, called ” The Magnificent Lizzie Brown and the Mysterious Phantom”.  It is set in Victorian London and surrounds the adventures of Lizzie Brown, who runs away from her drunken father and finds herself joining a circus.  Whilst assisting the fortuneteller, Lizzie discovers that she has a true ability to see into the future, not something she really wants.  the story deals with her attempts to unmask a mysterious thief, with the help of her new circus friends.  I am looking forward to the next in this exciting series for the ‘tweens’.