Ghosts of Mars by by Stuart White and Jennifer Jamieson

Growing up in the 1950s and 1960s I had a strong awareness of science fiction, but also the way the major powers were striving to get to the Moon and then beyond.  There were not many science fiction stories for children in the early days, but there was a huge amount for adults.  As a young library assistant, I devoured both crime and sci-fi stories and many of them were published in a yellow library edition by Gollancz, of which it has been said: “its main postwar strengths were detective fiction and sf: from the early 1960s to the late 1980s it was the premier UK publisher of sf books in hardcover, both native and US

In the 1970s we started seeing more books written specifically for the young reader and a particularly popular series was the  “Tripod” series by John Christopher.  However the growth in Sci-Fi was really expanded by TV series such as Dr Who, Blake’s Seven and Star Trek, but this was then overwhelmed by the franchise that is “Star Wars”.  With a renewal in the desire to return to space, we have seen another surge in books with a space setting and they are now reaching out to their new younger audiences.

Eva, the thirteen year old heroine of this story, has a lot to put up with; her mother died when she was young, she is a type 1 diabetic and she has the dubious distinction of being the first human to be born on Mars.  As she faces discrimination by some of the other children, she relies on the support of her father and her AI companion to help her cope.  So, when her father and his team go missing she decides she has to go and find them.  Linked to this we have the ‘ghosts’ that Eva starts to see, one of who looks remarkably like her late mother, the question is, are they hallucinations or are the real? If they are real, then who are they and why are they trying to make contact with Eva?

This is an fast paced story with a strong female character who has to overcome so many difficulties.  The issues around her type 1 diabetes are profound because, after an accident, the colony does not have supplies of insulin and Eva has to depend on outdated technology to keep her alive.  We gradually see that as the story continues, that the organization running the colony are only in it for the profit they can make and the infrastructure is facing collapse.

The book reminds me of the series  “The Martian Chronicles” by Ray Bradbury, which I watched on TV many years ago.  There is the same question of identity and belonging, something that Eva really struggles with.  We all assume that there is no advanced life form on Mars, so it is ‘safe’ to build colonies for the human race, but has that always been the case?  Whilst this is a great adventure story for young people, it also asks a range of questions about the way some groups feel that they have the right to expand wherever they like; in the same way that countries and large corporations have done throughout history.

This exciting and thought provoking read will make a great addition to the Science Fiction Genre for middle grade children.  It will also provide inspiration for the many young people who enjoy STEM subjects.


About BBNYA 

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Author Bio

Stuart is an award-winning author and secondary school teacher. He has a Masters Degree in Creative Writing and founded, and now runs, WriteMentor. In 2020 and 2022 he was placed on the SCWBI Undiscovered Voices longlist and named as an Honorary Mention for his novels ‘Ghosts of Mars’ and ‘Astra FireStar and the Ripples of Time’. In 2023, he won the WriteBlend award for his middle grade debut, Ghosts of Mars.

Stuart was included in The Bookseller’s 2021 list of Rising Stars in the publishing industry.


With a Type 1 Diabetic main character, Ghosts of Mars explores how life beyond Earth, and the fame and scrutiny that come with it, affects the young people involved, who didn’t sign up for life on Mars. Ten percent of author profits go to Diabetes UK.


Book Details

Length: 280 pages

Genre: Fantasy, Science Fiction

Age Category: Middle Grade

Date Published: 12 September 2022 (UK)

Goodreads Link:

The StoryGraph Link: 




Into the Lion’s Mouth by Nancy McConnell

Over the last few years I had read quite a few books set in Venice, or La Serenissima as it is known.  It is one of those magical cities that attracts visitors because of the architecture, canals and its amazing history.  The city built its reputation and wealth on being a maritime power; meaning that they controlled much of the Mediterranean and the lucrative trade routes within the area.

This story is set at the end of the 15th century and centres around the young orphan, Nico, who lives in an orphanage and is not adverse to pick-pocketing from the wealthy merchants he sees.  Nico finds himself caught up in politics, when he is randomly chosen to take part in a process to start the selection of a new Doge (ruler) of Venice.  When he accidentally sees one of the participants cheating, he finds himself in great danger and is later accused of stealing valuable jewellery from the current Doge.  This starts a string of events that finds him seeking refuge in Constantinople; but his nemesis also arrives in the Ottoman capital and Nico overhears a plot to kill the Doge and take power in Venice.  The question is; can he return to Venice and expose the plot and will anyone believe him if he does?

This is a great story of intrigue and adventure, with a hero who seems to have a bit of the Artful Dodger about him.  He is cheeky, loyal, and inordinately proud of his city.  The Lion’s Mouth of the title refers to a stone sculpture where people could place a piece of paper, with information on it, if they were too scared to go to the authorities.  I had come across this concept in a previous read and it makes for a great addition to the plot.  The author has given us a wonderful range of characters ; from the artists of the Bellini family, to the young girl Lisabetta, but above all we have the villainous Lord Foscari and his plot to change the future of Venice.  This is a great read, both for those who love adventure as well as those who are fans of historical novels.


Author Bio

Nancy McConnell grew up in a little family, in a small town on the outskirts of a bigger city. Besides her family, the two things she loved most in the world were: reading and playing pretend. When she grew up, reading was allowed but playing pretend was sometimes frowned upon. Since that was the case, she decided to write books so that the stories running around in her head would still live. In between writing stories, marrying her college sweetheart, and moving to a new country, she had her own little family and settled in another small town on the way outskirts of a much bigger city. Some things never change. When not writing, Nancy can be found puttering in her garden, taking photos or baking.

Follow Nancy on Instagram @nancywrites66, on Twitter @nancyemcc, and on Facebook @nancywrites4kids or visit her website

Bringing Back Kay-Kay by Dev Kothari

I was delighted to be sent this story for review and then to be asked to take part in the blog tour.  I knew that I would probably love the book because the author is an alumni of Bath Spa University and their MA in Writing for Children.  Over the years I have been lucky enough to know many of the staff and students and I know that the quality of writing is second to none.  The book is a middle grade story, set in modern day India and it is an absolute stunner.

The story is told from the perspective of Lena, who is devastated by the sudden disappearance of her beloved elder brother Kay-Kay.  He and his best friends were on their way back from a school summer camp in Goa, and at some point during the train journey he just seems to have vanished.  Lena, like so many young people becomes frustrated by what she perceives are the slow reactions of the police and other authorities.  In the end she decides to try and and find some answers for herself.  Then begins a long and hazardous journey, following the train stations where Kay-Kay’s train stopped.  On the way she meets a wide range of people and discovers a lot about herself, as well as finding out things that her brother had kept hidden from the family.  However, the main question is always, where is Kay-Kay and can he be brought home?

This is one of those really magical books that you come across now and again.  Lena is speaking directly to her brother and this really adds to the feeling of how personal the story is.  When Lena discovers the poetry that her brother has kept hidden from his family, she is overwhelmed by the beauty and lyricism of the words  and the pages become her constant companions as she undertakes her quest.  We get a real sense of the reality of her environment and the incredible contrasts in modern India; it really makes me wish that I was able to visit and enjoy the country myself.  I have a distinct feeling that this is now on my list of favourite books for 2024 and it has five stars from me.  I am also delighted that Dev has written this short piece for the blog, speaking about using the second person in her writing, many thanks.


Dev Kothari: Writing in second person

I believe that the way a story is told is as important as the story itself. Sometimes when I write, I have to try writing a piece in many different ways, in different voices to find the one that works best for it. And some lucky few times, a story appears to me having already chosen the right form in which it wants to be told. That was the case with Bringing Back Kay-Kay which is told in Lena’s voice as if she’s talking to her brother, Kay-Kay, a form of second person narrative. I didn’t set out to write the story this way, but it felt right from the very beginning. Even so, as I carried on writing, I conducted further research, by reading other books written in second person. While I’d read a handful of adult novels that used this form, I hadn’t come across any children’s novels that did so. Upon researching I discovered Rebecca Stead’s beautiful, intriguing MG novel When You Reach Me, Lucy Christopher’s Stolen, a sensational YA novel, and E. L. Konigsburg’s delightful MG novel, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. All of these books showed me different ways of how the second-person narrative can complement a story and more importantly, they helped strengthen my confidence in choosing this form too. Even so, I’d be lying if I said I had no apprehensions about how young readers would take to it. Since the book came out, however, I’ve heard from so many readers that it is this style of telling the story that seems to have immediately hooked them or helped them emotionally connect with the characters. So, I hope that the second-person narrative is one of the reasons why you might enjoy reading Lena and Kay-Kay’s story too.

Bringing Back Kay-Kay by Dev Kothari (£7.99, Walker Books) available