Wednesday, 20 October 2021

The Woman in the Middle

Milly Johnson

LIFE isn’t easy for middle-aged daughter, wife and mother Shay Bastable… She is in the unenviable position of being the filling part of the sandwich generation – compressed tightly between her parents and her children or, as she would say, ‘the two fat slices of bread’ on either side of her.

Her job is ‘to glue, to serve, to bind together’ her elderly, failing mum and dad and her two twenty-something youngsters who might have flown the nest but could still at any minute take flight again. So all she needs now is a big, life-changing crisis.

When much-loved Barnsley author Milly Johnson (pictured below) is writing the script, expect laughter and tears all the way and this warm, funny and razor-sharp exploration of what it means to be caught in the generation gap is, quite simply, a dazzling, contemporary masterpiece. This is a writer whose wide-ranging experiences as a columnist, joke-writer, poet and after-dinner speaker have made her a consummate ‘people person,’ enabling her to fill her clever stories with characters we can all recognise and to seamlessly blend heartfelt emotion with laugh-out-loud comedy, gritty reality with gorgeous romance, and moments of sheer magic with the downright prosaic.

And brimming with Johnson’s trademark heart, soul and humour, The Woman in the Middle is the kind of clever and compassionate novel readers have come to expect from the winner of the RoNA Best Romantic Comedy Novels of 2014 and 2016, and the winner of last year’s RoNA Outstanding Achievement Award.

When Shay Corrigan married Bruce Bastable 24 years ago, she swore she would never let her identity be buried under being a wife, mother or daughter, and that she would never sacrifice herself at the ‘altar of family.’

How wrong could you be? She’s now very much the woman in the middle, a typical part of the sandwich generation, caring for her frail parents and her children Courtney and Sunny, supporting Bruce, holding them all together and looking after them as best she can. Shay had dreamed of a marriage full of love and respect but instead has ended up with the flawed relationship that her parents had until they divorced late in life five years ago… a marriage where the man goes out to work to earn the bread and the woman does everything else.

But when a large orange skip arrives next door to her mother’s house on a local estate, it sets in motion a cataclysmic series of events which leads to the collapse of Shay’s world and she is finally forced to put herself first.

However, if Shay is to move forward with her present, she needs to make sense of her past. And so she returns to the little village where she grew up to uncover the truth about what happened to her when she was younger. And in doing so, she discovers that sometimes you have to hit rock bottom to find the only way is up…

Johnson’s books always champion women, their strength and resilience, and their pivotal role in family life, and here she celebrates their capacity for unquestioning love, their close bonds of friendship, and their ability to somehow bind together the different, and often competing, generations. The Woman in the Middle is written straight from the heart of an author who understands the essence of a woman’s everyday life and who can imbue her movingly authentic characters with the wisdom and insight she has gained from her own experiences.

And many readers will certainly recognise their own secret fears, hopes and regrets as they unfold in Johnson’s sensitive and darkly funny exploration of what it means to be caught between caring for ageing parents, keeping a watchful eye on angst-ridden children, and trying to keep your marriage together. Peppered liberally throughout with the author’s down-to-earth, Yorkshire-flavoured humour, and with an emotional temperature that runs at high from first page to last, The Woman in the Middle tackles some dark and thorny issues but is an unmissable and truly entertaining rollercoaster ride in which the human spirit prevails against all the odds and optimism triumphs in the face of despair. What more could you want for autumn nights?
(Simon & Schuster, hardback, £16.99)

Tuesday, 19 October 2021

The Unheard

Nicci French 

WHEN does a mother’s love for her child tip from natural protectiveness into dangerous paranoia? Feel the menace and share the frissons of fear as a brilliant writing team unleashes a new standalone thriller… a coruscating exploration of a guilt-ridden mother’s mind as she becomes convinced that her three-year-old daughter has witnessed a terrible crime.

Psychological suspense is firmly ingrained into the DNA of Nicci French, pseudonym for the extraordinary literary partnership of journalists Nicci Gerrard and Sean French (pictured below), the married couple whose twenty-three novels include the bestselling Frieda Klein series.

And this superbly crafted new page-turner – brimming with nerve-jangling tension and a mesmerising sense of foreboding – sweeps readers into the life of a troubled single mother, still reeling from the split with her partner, and fast spiralling into web of suspicion and obsessive behaviour. Part-time primary school teacher Tess Moreau’s number one priority has always been her three-year-old daughter Poppy. But since the separation from Poppy’s father Jason, who now has a new partner, Tess has felt guilt that Poppy, ‘so small, so vulnerable and trusting,’ has had to watch her world split in two.

Tess knows she cannot always be there to keep her daughter safe and is horrified that after a weekend with Jason, Poppy returns with a bundle of drawings which includes a disturbing black crayoned picture that is ‘simple and basic and violent.’

And when Poppy starts having bad dreams and repeating the phrase ‘He did kill. Kill and kill and kill,’ Tess becomes increasingly convinced that her frightened little girl has witnessed something terrible, something that her young mind is struggling to put into words and is impossible for Tess to understand. But no one will listen to Tess’s fears, telling her it’s only a child’s drawing. And when she eventually goes to the police to voice her concerns, a police inspector tells her that they cannot investigate because there is no suspicious death and just a crime that ‘doesn’t seem to exist.’

Tess tries to tell herself that she is just being the kind of over-protective mother that she promised herself she would never be but instinct tells her that something ‘doesn’t feel right’ and she determines to protect Poppy, whatever the price. But when she doesn’t know what, or who, she is protecting her from, how can she possibly know who to trust?

The Unheard hits the mark on every level thanks to ingenious plotting, a cast of acutely observed and authentic characters, and a powerful story which delves into the darkest recesses of the mind and delivers razor-sharp observations of a mother and child under extreme stress. Full of this dynamic writing duo’s trademark twists and turns, fast-paced action and emotional intensity, Tess’s increasingly unsettling search for the truth throws up a trail of possible suspects and takes us on a wild and totally unpredictable rollercoaster ride.

As the behaviour of our narrator Tess becomes more obsessional, the suspicion grows that she may be delusional and manipulative and, in turn, fuelling a simmering mystery that carries right through to the final reveal and a satisfying twist in the tail. A masterclass in thriller writing!
(Simon & Schuster, hardback, £14.99)

Monday, 18 October 2021

Nostalgic sagas where love conquers all

As autumn draws in, cosy down with a selection of entertaining sagas that are guaranteed to add much-needed warmth and romance to the dark nights

The Patchwork Girls
Elaine Everest

AFTER the sudden death of her politician husband during the early months of the Second World War, Helen Wentworth is forced to return to her family home in Kent. But living with her mother and stepfather again is not what Helen ever wanted and when the manner of her husband’s death becomes a cause for suspicion, she turns to new-found friends to see her through the dark days ahead.

Welcome to the dangerous but warm-spirited world of wartime so vividly imagined by Elaine Everest (pictured below), the Kentish author whose bestselling series, The Woolworths Girls, The Butlins Girls and The Teashop Girls, have made her one of the nation’s most popular saga queens. Expect drama, secrets, romance and friendship as Everest, who grew up listening to stories of the war years in her home town of Erith, brings us a gripping and emotionally powerful story of love and loss set against the trials and tribulations of life on the home front.

In October 1939, Helen is suddenly faced with the death of her MP husband, John Wentworth, in an incident at their smart London apartment which is now under investigation by Inspector Richard Gladstone of the RAF’s military police.

With a twenty-year age gap, their marriage had been one that was convenient to them both… John needed a smart, good-looking wife and Helen was eager to leave behind her selfish mother and her unpleasant stepfather, Gavin Davis.

But now she is back at her mother’s house in Biggin Hill, Kent, where the atmosphere is tense and Helen feels alone and unloved. Not knowing where to turn, Helen joins the local women’s sewing circle despite being hopeless with a needle and thread. And she soon finds that these resourceful women can not only make do and mend clothes, quilts and woolly hats, but their friendship mends something deeper in Helen as well. Canadian Lizzie Donnington is a natural leader, always ready to lend a helping hand or a listening ear. Effie King, Helen’s mother’s housekeeper, has uprooted her life from London to keep her two little girls away from the bombing raids, and the sewing circle is a welcome distraction from worries about how to keep a roof over their heads and about her husband who is on active duty overseas.

Click HERE for Lancashire Post reviews

When the reason for Helen’s husband's death comes to light, her world is turned upside down yet again. The investigating officer, Richard, is determined to leave no stone unturned, but it’s not long before his interest in Helen goes beyond the professional. As Helen pieces together old fabrics into a beautiful quilt, and the threads of her husband’s mysterious death are finally pulled together, can she patch up the rifts in her own life and find the happiness she has always longed for?

Everest’s foray into the lives of the plucky sewing group women brings with it some moments of heartbreak, suspense and humour but amidst all the discoveries and shocks, it’s love, loyalty, family and friendship that will see them all through the darkest days. With the ever-present fears for loved ones fighting overseas, and worries and personal dramas unfolding on the home front, this is an engaging and addictive story and, as always, the community spirit which holds people together is evoked with the warmth, rich period detail and superb characterisation that we have come to expect from this master storyteller.
(Pan, paperback, £7.99)

Her Wartime Secret
Emma Hornby

A SECRET from the past threatens to tear apart a loving couple in a gripping wartime saga from Bolton author Emma Hornby.

Hornby (pictured below), who was inspired to write after researching her own family history, bases her stories on the many generations of her family who eked out life amidst the squalor and poverty of Lancashire’s slums. And this history is reflected in her emotionally-charged stories which include the powerful and absorbing novel, A Shilling for a Wife, set in mid-19thcentury Bolton.

In Bolton in 1940, Janie Hudson and her husband James have a strong and loving marriage. A move from an inner-city slum to a peaceful new estate outside of the town should have been a fresh start for them and their three children. 

But when war is declared and James announces he has signed up, Janie fears it’s the beginning of the end. Waving goodbye to their menfolk is a sacrifice that families are making all over the country and Janie does her best to make do, forging friendships in her new community.

But when James comes home on leave a traumatised and desperate man, and then goes AWOL, Janie’s heart goes out to him. Determined to keep him safe, she plans to hide him in their new house. But how long can they keep the secret, and what threats might lie ahead if they are found out?

Featuring a family torn apart by war and held together by a secret, this gritty tale of love, loyalty, friendship and survival explores the hardships of life during the turbulent war years and features a cast of authentic, beautifully portrayed characters. Expect tears and laughter, and a twist in the tail as Hornby delivers another northern winner…
(Corgi, paperback, £6.99)

The Dover Cafe On the Front Line
Ginny Bell

AS wartime grips England in the autumn of 1940, the coastal town of Dover and the busy café in Market Square are suddenly finding themselves on the front line. But despite the danger and the Battle of Britain raging overhead, formidable widow Nellie Castle, owner of the Dover Café at War, is determined to keep the café open… no matter what.

Welcome back to the trials and tribulations of the lively Castle family whose home town of Dover was at the forefront of the Second World War, suffering four long years of relentless bombing raids and earning the nickname Hellfire Corner.

The Dover Cafe On the Front Line is the second book in Ginny Bell’s (pictured below) compelling debut saga series and once again stars Nellie and her six children who can now hear German guns firing across the Channel. Life has been tough for Nellie since her husband Donald died thirteen years ago but her daughter, Lily, is facing an exciting time of change as she starts her nursing career. 

The work is demanding, but with romance on the horizon, she still finds time to enjoy herself. That is until a prisoner escapes from the hospital and everything she holds dear – including her freedom – is put at risk. Meanwhile, there are strange goings-on at the café… rumours are circulating and long-buried secrets are surfacing, secrets that could tear the Castle family apart once and for all.

Bell’s pride and affection for the town she knows so well shines through in this heartwarming saga series as the charismatic Castle family spring to vibrant life and we share in their dramas, secrets, laughter, tears, and fears during the war years. At the heart of the action is the strong and determined Nellie Castle, a woman whose humour, resilience and straight-talking will be needed in this turbulent new chapter of her life. Well researched, written with warmth and insight, brimming with emotion and drama, and starring a cast of superbly drawn characters who touch the hearts of readers everywhere, The Dover Café series is fast becoming a favourite with saga fans.
(Zaffre, paperback, £7.99)

A Mother’s Secret
Kitty Neale 

BORN and raised in Battersea during the war years, saga queen Kitty Neale (pictured below) has made this area of South London her own with a raft of gritty and compelling novels.

And in the first book of a new Battersea Tavern family saga series, we are whisked away to London in 1939 and into the life of Winnie Berry who has been the landlady of the Battersea Tavern for nearly twenty-five years.

The pub is like home to her… a place of tears and laughter, full of customers that feel like family. 

But it’s also a place where she has learned to avoid the quick fists of her husband Brian, and where she has raised her beloved son, David.

Unfortunately, David has inherited his father’s lazy streak and can’t seem to hold down a job, but when war is declared Winnie is determined to keep her son safe.  That’s because she is still haunted by the choice she made years ago as a desperate young woman, and she won’t make the same mistake of letting her family be taken from her.

But when a young woman crosses her path, the secrets of Winnie’s past threaten to turn her world upside down. There’s nothing stronger than a mother’s love… but can it ever have a second chance? Get ready for shocks and secrets, drama and tears as Neale works her magic on this addictive tale of danger, wartime and a mother’s love.
(Orion, paperback, £7.99)

A Precious Daughter
Diane Allen

THE stunning countryside of North Yorkshire, the wilds of Canada and the city streets of Liverpool form the backdrop to a beautiful tale of family, love, hope and hardship from popular storyteller Diane Allen.

Allen (pictured below), whose inspiration comes from the stunning countryside surrounding her home near the historic market town of Settle, has her finger firmly on the pulse of northern saga writing and the hardy Yorkshire folk who have for centuries made their home amongst the hills and dales. Allen, an observant and insightful writer, fields a fascinating cast of authentic characters in an enthralling tale packed with emotion, drama and the harsh realities of a family’s struggles in the late 19th century.

When Ethan Postlethwaite, his wife Grace and their daughter Amy announce that they will be leaving the family home in the Yorkshire Dales in 1896, Grace’s parents are heartbroken. Hoping for a new life prospecting for gold in the wilds of Canada, the young family say goodbye and set sail across the Atlantic in search of a brighter future.

The journey there proves hard and treacherous, however, and upon arrival it becomes apparent that the riches they had been promised in the gold fields have already been plundered. So when the family is devastated by the death of Grace, Ethan decides he must take his daughter back to England.

Arriving in Liverpool, Ethan and Amy soon find work in a dairy as cow-keepers, but Amy is restless and struggles to settle into yet another new life. And when a chance encounter at a cattle show ignites an old friendship, she must decide where her own future lies and what she must do in order to find happiness at last. Allen seduces her readers with a warm-hearted and compassionate tale which evokes the grit and grind of working life but also delivers romance, the shining light of hope, and proof of the enduring power of love, family and friendship to transform even the darkest days.
(Pan, paperback, £7.99)

Wednesday, 13 October 2021

CHILDREN'S BOOKS: Hope for the future, poetry in motion and vampire rules

Follow in the footsteps of inspirational hero Captain Sir Tom Moore, share the love for everyone’s favourite pets, enjoy a visual exploration of chemistry, meet a girl who is in training to be a vampire, and board a very special train for a thrilling mystery adventure with a super new collection of autumn children’s books

Age 7 plus
One Hundred Reasons
To Hope
Danielle Brown, Adam Larkum, Captain Sir Tom Moore and Hannah Ingram-Moore

‘For all those finding it difficult: the sun will shine on you again and the clouds will go away. Remember that tomorrow will be a good day.’

CAPTAIN Sir Tom Moore captured the hearts of a nation as he walked 100 laps of his garden to raise money for the NHS but this hero of the pandemic also wished to celebrate many other inspirational stories from what was and still is an uncertain time, and with his blessing, these one hundred stories make a book of hope for the future.

These true stories of everyday heroes across the nation – beautifully illustrated by Adam Larkum – are introduced by Captain Sir Tom’s daughter, Hannah Ingram-Moore, and have been written by Paralympian Danielle Brown to show just how extraordinarily well we can work together. The book includes well-known stories such as Joe Wicks’ family workouts, as well as equally astonishing tales of everyday heroes, like dancing binmen and fancy-dress postal workers, who brought joy to their neighbourhoods.

Click HERE for Lancashire Post reviews

These are stories of courage and community, of everyday kindness and perseverance. From the scientists racing to find a vaccine, to frontline workers putting themselves at risk, from clapping together to celebrate keyworkers, to breathing cleaner air, discover one hundred stories that will help you hope that tomorrow will be a good day. A £1 donation will be made to the Captain Tom Foundation for all hardback print sales in the UK and Ireland. The foundation was created to inspire hope where it is needed most, combating loneliness, helping those facing bereavement, and supporting hospices.
(Puffin, hardback, £14.99)

Age 5 to 95
Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats
T.S. Eliot, illustrated by Júlia Sardà

WHEN it comes to favourite pets, cats and dogs will always reign! And when it comes to poetry, T.S. Eliot’s beloved cat poems, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, are still the all-time winners. So team up these enchanting rhymes with the glorious illustrations of Spanish artist Júlia Sardà and you have the perfect gift for cat lovers of every age.

‘The naming of Cats is a difficult matter, It isn't just one of your holiday games; You may think at first I'm as mad as a hatter When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.’

So begins one of the best-known poetry collections of all time… an unforgettable tribute to cats, some sane, some mad, some good and some bad. Meet magical Mr Mistoffelees, sleepy Old Deuteronomy and curious Rum Tum Tugger but you’ll be lucky to meet Macavity because Macavity’s not there!

This stunning new full-colour, large-format version – brimming with Sardà’s highly original and vibrant interpretation of Eliot’s cats – is ideal for reading with children and the perfect companion to another stunning Faber book, Christopher Reid’s Old Toffer’s Book of Consequential Dogs, which is published on the 80th anniversary of the first edition of Eliot’s Old Possum’s Cats. 

Lavishly illustrated by Sara Ogilvie and originally conceived by Eliot himself, these doggy poems have been lovingly penned by former Faber poetry editor, master poet and Costa-winner Reid and are as witty, varied and exquisitely compiled as Eliot’s cats. 

Created in an appealing child-friendly large format, these canine-flavoured odes are guaranteed to win the hearts of dog lovers from every generation.
(Faber & Faber, hardback, £14.99 each)

Age 9 plus
The Week at World’s End
Emma Carroll 

NOT for nothing has Emma Carroll become known as the queen of historical fiction. And this stunning, hotly anticipated standalone story from the award-winning author is the perfect example of how to turn real history into a thrilling adventure. In Britain in 1962, nothing ever happens in World’s End Close so when Stevie discovers a runaway girl in her coal shed, the first thing she does is fetch her best friend, Ray. Both are dying for adventure and when the girl begs for help, they readily agree. The girl, Anna, is on the run from people who are trying to poison her. Meanwhile, the Americans and Russians are arguing over missiles in Cuba. As the threat of war grows, Anna’s behaviour becomes more mysterious and Stevie unearths a dark family secret. Carroll does a magnificent job of bringing to life the uncertain times of 1962 whilst delivering a powerful and atmospheric adventure steeped in the close bonds of family and friendship. Utterly enthralling!
(Faber & Faber, hardback, £12.99)

Age 9 plus
The Stardust That Made Us
Colin Stuart and Ximo Abadía

Imagine that Nature has an unseen cookbook full of different recipes and you might find that learning chemistry is fun! In their third stunning STEM book, the top team of author Colin Stuart and illustrator Ximo Abadía embark on a visual exploration of chemistry, atoms, elements and the universe, and come up with a scientific wonder that that will enthral children. Their ‘nature recipes’ can make everything from fish to fingernails and sand to Saturn, and all feature the ‘ingredients’ that are known as chemical elements, organised in a grid called the periodic table. With stunning, surrealist illustrations and an easy-to-read informative text, this is the ideal inspiration for budding young scientists.
(Big Picture Press, hardback, £16.99)

Age 9 plus
Rules for Vampires
Alex Foulkes and Sara Ogilvie

STRAIGHTEN your cape and sharpen your claws! If Lemony Snickett and Skulduggery Pleasant tickle your spook buds then dive into this wickedly dark and funny debut novel from exciting new author Alex Foulkes who is aided and abetted here by award-winning illustrator Sara Ogilvie. Star of this gorgeously gothic tale is the hilarious Leo, a vampire girl who finds that being a vampire is harder than it looks, particularly when you have protect the balance between the worlds of the Living and the Undead. Hauntingly humorous and frantically fast for the season of Halloween!
(Simon & Schuster Children’s Books, paperback, £7.99)

Age 9 plus
Adventures of Trains:
Danger at Dead Man’s Pass
M.G. Leonard, Sam Sedgman
and Elisa Paganelli

FULL steam ahead for more thrilling Adventures on Trains as schoolboy Harrison (Hal) Beck investigates an ancient family curse high in the German mountains.  Authors M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman, and illustrator Elisa Paganelli, whisk youngsters away to lofty mountain peak Brocken in a dynamic mystery series that has become must-reading for action fans and train buffs. So take the night train to Berlin, go undercover with Hal and his Uncle Nat, and don’t look back until the last page has turned at the mysterious journey’s end. One of the wildest and most wonderful reading journeys you will make this year… and just the latest in a fabulous adventure series that has all the bells and whistles any rail fan could want!
(Macmillan, paperback, £7.99)

Age 9 plus
Maggie Blue and the Dark World
Anna Goodall

FINDING light in a dark world has never been more relevant than it is today and Anna Goodall’s coruscating middle-grade debut novel, Maggie Blue and the Dark World, burns brightly for youngsters who have been struggling to cope with the pandemic. This thrilling and thought-provoking story stars a troubled, angry 12-year-old girl thrust into a terrifying adventure and discovering the power of friendship, courage and simply being yourself. With wit, humour and themes of friendship, this is the perfect package for every child that craves an all-round, cracking adventure story!
(Guppy Books, paperback, £7.99)

Age 8 plus
Eddie Albert and the Amazing Animal Gang:
The Amsterdam Adventure
Paul O’Grady 

ANIMAL lover, TV celebrity and comedian Paul O’Grady makes his debut as a children’s books author and scores top marks with this laugh-out-loud, action-packed adventure starring a pint-size Dr Dolittle who can talk to the animals. Somewhat-unhappy and never-quite-fitting in 10-year-old Eddie Albert has a secret unknown to anyone else… he can speak to animals, including his pet dog Butch, his hamster and his two zany goldfish who believe they were once pirates. But when Eddie is sent to stay with his eccentric aunt in Amsterdam, he discovers that she has the same gift. Cue for a cosmopolitan comic crime caper full of cinematic action and big-hearted messages about friendship and the magic of animals. First of a series that promises to be a menagerie of mayhem and fun!
(HarperCollins Children’s Books, hardback, £12.99)

Age 7 plus
Mr Penguin and the Tomb of Doom
Alex T. Smith

INDIANA Jones meets Hercule Poirot in this brilliantly funny series for early readers from an author and illustrator at the top of his game. The ever-inventive Alex T. Smith brings us the hilarious Mr Penguin and his trusty sidekick Colin (the spider) and in their fourth adventure, the dynamic duo head into the heat of the Egyptian desert on their most important mission yet to find a kidnapped friend. With a stunning gallery of black and orange illustrations, a baffling mystery and adventures galore, there’s a belly laugh round every corner on the track to the great pyramids!
(Hodder Children’s Books, hardback, £9.99)

Age 6 plus
The Secret Garden
Geraldine McCaughrean, Frances Hodgson Burnett and Margarita Kukhtina

ENJOY one of the world’s favourite bedtime stories in a beautifully retold, illustrated edition by Carnegie Medal-winning author Geraldine McCaughrean. Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic tale about the restorative power of nature comes as a sumptuous gift book with dazzling, full-colour artwork by Margarita Kukhtina. The story of spoiled and contrary child Mary Lennox, who is sent from India to live with her uncle at gloomy Misselthwaite Manor and with the help of a little robin, unlocks the wonder that lies beyond the garden walls, is sensitively imagined and updated for a contemporary audience by McCaughrean. With a cloth binding, foil cover, textured paper jacket and ribbon marker, there could be no better Christmas gift for your loved ones this year.
(Nosy Crow, hardback, £14.99)

Age 6 plus
The Gloriumptious Worlds of Roald Dahl
Stella Caldwell, Roald Dahl
and Quentin Blake

EXPLORE the characters and creations of the world’s number one storyteller in this glorious tribute to the inspirational author Roald Dahl. Dive into your favourite stories, retold through never-before-seen letters, photographs, magic books, recipes, diary entries and newspaper clippings, and discover fascinating facts about the author and the worlds he created, from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to The Witches, Matilda and The BFG. Read Mrs Twit’s recipe for bird pie, become a giant expert with the BFG's spotter’s guide and discover Willy Wonka’s golden ticket. And don’t miss the bonus envelope packed with Dahl-inspired booklets, games and activity sheets to inspire and encourage your own budding storytellers!
(Welbeck, hardback, £16.99)

Age 6 plus
Toto the Ninja Cat and
the Legend of the Wildcat
Dermot O’Leary and Nick East

HEAD off for more mischief and mayhem with a magical moggie who sleeps all day and fights crime at night as Dermot O’Leary and illustrator Nick East return with amazing ninja cat, Toto, for another gigglesome, gob-smacking adventure starring the feline heroine who was inspired by O’Leary’s own rescue cats. Plenty of cat-astrophic antics guaranteed as the zany cat gang are sent to a bootcamp for naughty animals! An ideal gift, especially for newly confident readers.
(Hodder Children’s Books, hardback, £9.99)

Age 6 plus
Unipiggle: Witch Emergency
Hannah Shaw

WELOCOME back to Twinkleland Kingdom where you can enjoy more madcap adventures and giggles galore as Hannah Shaw returns with her magical Unipiggle series for young readers. Princess Pea, who doesn’t like rules and loves getting muddy and having adventures with her royal pet, Unipiggle, finds herself in the midst of chaos when she discovers a dusty old magic book. Like a pig in muck, Shaw has fun, games and muddy magic with this wonderfully madcap and imaginative series which is filled with high-energy, full-colour illustrations, knockabout comedy, and lots of interactive extra material.
(Usborne, paperback, £5.99)

Age 4 plus
The Good, the Bad and the Spooky
Jory John and Pete Oswald

ENJOY more food for thought as bestselling author and illustrator team, Jory John and Pete Oswald, sow the seeds of another tasty and inventive picture book! Based on their sensational The Bad Seed series, this entertaining new book features Halloween, the Bad Seed's favourite holiday, but what if he can’t find a show-stopping costume for the big night? Get ready for some trick-or-treating fun in this enchanting new adventure which includes two sticker sheets, perfect for decorating your own mini jack-o’-lantern!
(HarperCollins Children’s Books, paperback, £7.99)

Age 2 plus
Winnie’s Best Friend
Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul

THE madcap adventures of Winnie the Witch and her black cat Wilbur have provided spellbinding, bite-size stories for over three decades and now the two much-loved stars take centre stage in a story that goes back to the beginning of their friendship. With its universal theme of finding your very own best friend, lots of mad, bad and dangerously hilarious escapades, and Korky Paul’s anarchic colour illustrations to bring the crazy antics to life, this is the perfect introduction to the irresistible duo for a new generation of young readers. A super gift book for your own mischief-makers!
(OUP, hardback, £12.99)

Tuesday, 12 October 2021

Magic Lessons

Alice Hoffman 

‘It’s one thing to learn magic, but quite another to be born with it.’

PREPARE to be totally bewitched as Alice Hoffman, master storyteller and a literary practitioner of the dark arts, returns with a stunning prequel to her two extraordinary novels, Practical Magic and Rules of Magic, which charted the fates of a family of witches in Salem, Massachusetts.

Magic Lessons travels back to 17th century England to trace a centuries-old curse to its source and lift the veil on Maria Owens, matriarch of a line of amazing Owens women whose lives and loves have enthralled thousands of readers.

In a story woven through with fierce and inspirational women, the dark history of witchcraft and persecution, cruel betrayal, revenge and bittersweet redemption, Hoffman (pictured below) takes us on a thrilling adventure from the green fields of England and the Caribbean island of Dutch Curaçao on to Salem and New York City. In 1664, only two decades after the demise of brutal witch-finder Matthew Hopkins, ‘green witch’ Hannah Owens finds a baby girl abandoned in a snowy field in rural England. The infant has been wound in a blanket with her name, Maria, stitched along the border, and a crow keeps a watchful eye on her.

Under the care of Hannah – a ‘green magic’ visionary who blends the soul of the individual with the soul of the earth – Maria learns about the natural world and the Nameless Arts. Hannah recognises immediately that Maria has a gift and she teaches the girl all she knows.

Hannah proves to be a kind and generous soul but, in a time of suspicion and superstition, there are those who believe that even good folk can be ‘hidden servants of evil’ who can curse the land and cause children to die. Healers must do their work discreetly because women are blamed for much of the world’s troubles. As quick learner Maria grows, Hannah teaches the girl her first important lesson… love appears in many guises and can be either a blessing or a curse so ‘always love someone who will love you back.’ It soon becomes clear that Maria is a ‘bloodline witch’ with magic inside her and Hannah says she must leave England and escape to the new world where ‘a woman wasn’t considered worthless.’ 

Click HERE for Lancashire Post review

But some years later, when Maria is abandoned by the man who has declared his love for her, she follows him to Salem. And it is here that she invokes the curse that will haunt her family. And

Tuesday, 5 October 2021

Too Much of Water

L.C. Tyler 

WHEN the Admiralty’s candidate for an upcoming by-election is found dead in a fishing net, it seems that any hopes of bribing a way to victory are now well and truly washed up. But did the brutish and foul-mouthed Admiral Sir Robert Digges die in an accidental drowning – as the coroner has ruled – or was he murdered? With powerful adversaries ranged against him, it won’t be an easy case for John Grey, Justice of the Peace, former royal spy… and a man who finds his fuel in cynicism.

If you haven’t yet enjoyed the black humour and dark deeds that make L.C. Tyler’s dazzling John Grey series such an original and unmissable treat, then dive in now and discover real history brought to glorious life with the perfect blend of wit, stand-out characterisation, and a fascinating mystery. Perhaps best known for his superb Herring comedy series starring hilarious author and agent duo Ethelred Tressider and Elsie Thirkettle, Tyler (pictured below) is a former civil servant and a past chair of the Crime Writers Association.

His current speciality is the John Grey series featuring a clever, sardonic lawyer operating during the reign of the restored King Charles II, and frequently finding himself caught up in labyrinthine skulduggery and daring double dealing. And what we get is Tyler at his entertaining best… a Restoration crime romp delivered with a wealth of research and verbal artistry, creating a delicious slice of history in all its dark, dank and deadly reality, and a veritable stage show of witty one-liners wrapped up in an enthralling mystery adventure.

In Eastwold in 1670, local legend tells how on a still night, if you stand on the beach there, you can still hear the bells of the drowned church of St James tolling mournfully beneath the waves. But Eastwold, once one of England’s greatest ports, has been fighting a losing battle with the sea ever since it was granted its charter by King John. Bit by bit the waves have eaten the soft cliffs on which it stands, until only a handful of houses remain.

However, the town still sends two MPs to Parliament and rich men from London are prepared to pay well for the votes of the dozen or so remaining burgesses of the town. The voters are looking forward to a profitable by-election until the Admiralty candidate, the unpopular Admiral Digges, ends up every bit as drowned as his prospective constituency.

The coroner rules his death an accident but the Admiralty fear their candidate has been murdered and John Grey in London receives a request from the authorities to uncover the truth. Hot on his heels is Samuel Pepys, Clerk of the Acts to the Navy Board, who has been sent by his master, the Duke of York, to stand for the watery seat in place of Digges. He also brings Grey clarification of what kinds of ‘truth’ the Duke is happy for him to uncover… and what he should ignore.

Click HERE for Lancashire Post review

With spring edging cautiously towards the windswept east coast, Grey starts to question the remaining residents and other well-paid officials of the non-existent town. He soon meets

Sunday, 3 October 2021


Dr Hilary Jones

TWO teenagers – from opposite sides of the tracks but both driven by their desire to help others – are destined to meet amidst the carnage and chaos of the First World War. The seemingly unremarkable collision of their young lives sets in motion a family dynasty that will be at the forefront of medical advances from the killing fields of Flanders and a devastating flu pandemic right through to the discovery of penicillin and the birth of the NHS.

Doctor Hilary Jones (pictured below), a General Practitioner and regular contributor to newspapers and television shows, has dug deep into his medical experience, knowledge and imagination for this epic new series charting the rise of a prominent medical family in the 20th century.

With fascinating facts on caring for the sick and wounded, the life-saving developments in medicine which were hastened by war and disaster, and featuring the bravery and resilience of the medics who risked their lives to save others, Frontline is packed with real history and drama. Grace Tustin-Pennington, who was born into the landed gentry, grew up with five brothers in rural Gloucestershire and soon proved to be the most impulsive, impetuous and fearless of the sibling brood.

A risk-taker who is quietly efficient, confident and more than an intellectual match for her brothers, Grace decides to confound all her mother’s expectations about marrying and having children, and instead spends two years training to be a nurse.

And when the Great War breaks out in 1914, and despite her father’s vow that none of his sons would ever go to war, it is Grace who is first to volunteer with the mounted First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY) and she heads off to France with the British Expeditionary Force.

Click HERE for Lancashire Post review

Her job is to provide first-aid treatment on the spot but nothing had prepared Grace for the ‘maelstrom of death and destruction’ there. Soon she is tending grievously injured men with terrible wounds at casualty clearing stations, and working through the day and night after bombardments.

Meanwhile, Will Burnett is the teenage son of a dockworker in Chiswick in London. A studious boy, Will likes to read about biology and the natural world, and opts to apprentice as a porter at a local hospital where he is soon noted for his interest in medicine and his exceptional care of