Wednesday, 6 July 2022

CHILDREN'S BOOKS: Feisty princesses, ruling the galaxy and chaotic cats

Take flight with some freewheeling princesses on an all-action route to freedom, laugh all the way to outer space with an out-of-this world adventure, share madcap capers with feline friends as they go cat-astrophically crazy, and tuck into more cheesy fun with everyone’s favourite Supermouse in a sunshine collection of summer books 

Age 3 plus
Princesses Break Free
Timothy Knapman and Jenny Løvlie

LONG gone are the days when a princess had to sit around waiting to be rescued by a handsome prince… now, they rescue themselves! Girls will be leaping from towers, arming themselves with mushy apple pies, and parachuting with a giant pair of knickers when they get their hands on this humorous and gloriously go-getting picture book from author, lyricist and playwright Timothy Knapman and prize-winning illustrator Jenny Løvlie. 

Princesses Break Free – a wild and wonderful fairy tale adventure – sets out to challenge all those stereotypical images of the pampered princesses and poised, preened damsels in distress and instead stars a princess who is ready to take charge of her own destiny. The story begins in a fairy tale world like any other… princesses in distress are rescued by valiant and dashing princes and live happily ever after. The End. But for Princess Tilly, sitting around waiting to be rescued by a prince is BORING. So… she simply rescues herself! ‘This puny prison can’t hold me!’ she declares. And it’s not long before word of Tilly’s exploits spreads across the kingdom and inspires other princesses (and princes and witches) to take their fate into their own hands too!

Knapman’s all-action, high-energy and humorous story – with its fabulous cast of defiant princesses and traditional fairy tale settings – invites youngsters to buck the trend, reach for the sky and be whatever they want, instead of following a well-trodden and predetermined route into adulthood. Brimming with Løvlie’s stunning gallery of rich and colourful illustrations, and embodying messages perfectly fitted to a new generation of 21st century children, this is a modern fairy tale with a wickedly funny twist… and the perfect inspiration for your own little princesses!
(Walker Books, hardback, £12.99)

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Age 9 plus
A Beginner’s Guide to Ruling the Galaxy
David Solomons

IT'S hard to crush your enemies when your homework is due! Strap yourselves in and take a deep breath because David Solomons is back with an out-of-this world adventure that will have you laughing all the way to outer space. Solomons – who has been writing screenplays for many years, and is now an award-winning children’s author as well – plays to his star-struck audience in this entertaining, laugh-out-loud story about what happens when a galactic princess moves in next door… and almost brings about the end of the world! Gavin has a new neighbour and she is really annoying. Niki follows him everywhere, bosses him about, claims she has never seen anyone so cosmically insignificant as Gavin, and doesn’t care that her parents will obliterate Earth with their galactic warships if she doesn’t stop running away from them. And now she wants Gavin to fix her spaceship. And if he doesn’t, the Earth will be destroyed by the alien despots (aka Niki’s Mum and Dad). Is Niki really a galactic princess and can they save the planet… possibly. Will they become friends along the way… doubtful! Solomons knows his audience well and the beguiling mix of high-octane action, rib-tickling humour, outrageous plot twists, and genuine heartwarming emotion is guaranteed to have readers gasping and guffawing in equal measure. So if it’s cosmic capers and intergalactic giggles you’re after, then climb aboard and prepare for a simply astronomical fun ride!
(Nosy Crow, paperback, £7.99)

Age 9 plus
The Dragon in the Bookshop
Ewa Jozefkowicz 

A YOUNG boy struggling with the grief of his father’s death is plunged into a magical adventure when he gets lost in the pages of his favourite book. Polish author Ewa Jozefkowicz blends Polish folklore with a fantastical quest in her powerful new novel about finding your voice in difficult times. An old Polish city fizzes with fear and the townsfolk are at the mercy of a dragon who lurks in the cave below the castle. Konrad’s dad always used to say, ‘There is a character in a book somewhere that matches you almost entirely. It’s just a matter of finding them.’ Konrad never expected the ‘finding’ to involve stepping right into a story, and he never expected his dad not to be there with him. After his dad’s death, Konrad stopped speaking. Not a word at home or school as the years rolled by. But that begins to change when he meets Maya on the beach he loved to explore with Dad. She doesn’t mind his silence. It gives her a chance to be heard because at home no one seems to notice her. When the pair go on a last visit to Konrad’s family bookshop before it is sold, they get lost in the pages of Konrad’s favourite book of folk tales. Whisked back in time to go on a quest with a dragon, they must find themselves and their voices, as well as a happy end to the story in the book and in real life. Jozefkowicz’s beautifully told, compassionate story – which was inspired by her own father’s death when she was a teenager and her work with bereaved children charity Grief Encounter – speaks volumes in this compelling and emotive medieval adventure. A warm, enchanting and reassuring read.
(Zephyr, paperback, £7.99)

Age 8 plus
How To Hide An Alien
Karen McCombie 

LIFE isn’t always easy… especially if you’re from another planet! Much-loved children’s author Karen McCombie returns with the warm, entertaining and thought-provoking sequel to her perceptive novel, How To Be A Human, which imagined a friendship that really is out of this world. These life lessons wrapped up in fantastical adventures gently explore what it means to feel like an outsider and other emotive classroom issues like friendship, bullying, and the pressures to be ‘popular’ and fit in. At the heart of these stories is Star Boy whose space-pod was destroyed but is adapting to life on Earth thanks to his friends Kiki and Wes who are helping him to get to grips with becoming a passable human. They know what it’s like to be an outsider but Kiki’s long list of don’ts is a constant reminder of how hard it is to pass for a convincing human. But more troubling for the Star Boy are the strange pings and pangs he is experiencing, and the hard-to-hide electrical surges that are worrying his human rescuers, causing electrical disturbances all over town and making it hard for him to stay invisible. And when the Star Boy accidentally channels his true form on to the whiteboard of every class at Riverside Academy, things reach a whole new level of panic. With frenzied reports of an alien sighting trending on social media, how can Kiki and Wes keep their friend safe? McCombie’s thoroughly heartwarming tale of a stranded alien and the two unlikely school friends who discover him is packed with fun, humour and otherworldly adventures, but it is also a reassuring read for youngsters who face their own battles as ‘outsiders.’
(Little Tiger Press, paperback, £7.99)

Age 3 plus
Cats in Chaos
Peter Bently and John Bond 

HAVE these feline friends gone cat-astrophically crazy?! Get your paws on this second laughter-filled extravaganza from the picture book collaboration of Roald Dahl Funny Prize-winning author Peter Bently and brilliantly talented illustrator John Bond, the team which brought us the coruscating canine caper, Dogs in Disguise. Cats in Chaos is a wickedly funny rhyming romp which takes a fabulously funny and mischief-packed peep into the chaotic world of cats and all the incredible things they get up to when their owners aren’t looking! In the dark of night, as their owners sleep, the cats of the city are all headed to one place… Catsby’s Great Circus! Step this way and see conjuring cats, felines that fly, Siamese that swing from above, and don’t miss the mighty motorbiking moggie Evel Katnevel, and the gobsmacking Purrcules Claw who can balance thirty-one cats on one paw. But with so much activity, it only takes one little mouse in the wrong place to put the whole circus in chaos! Bently’s jaunty rhyme, a story full of action and laughter, and a cast of madcap moggies – each rendered with Bond’s wit and expressive precision – burst out from every page. And with a fantastic feline twist in the tail, this playful celebration of cats is a purffect joy!
(HarperCollinsChildren’sBooks, paperback, £7.99)

Age 3 plus
Supermouse and the Volcano of Doom
M.N. Tahl and Mark Chambers

LITTLE ones will be in a flap when they join everyone’s favourite Supermouse for more tasty, cheesy adventures! This new action-packed adventure from (cheese-loving) author M.N. Tahl and award-winning Mark Chambers is simply oozing with fun-filled flaps to lift, peep-through pages… and fiery fondue. Supermouse is back in action but with crime on the rise in Mouseopolis, volcanic Mount Fondue about to explode and hazards on every horizon, could this job be too much for one mouse to handle? It’s time to call for some back-up… but who is going to help? This action-packed adventure – featuring the hilarious antics of Peter Parmesan, the mouse behind the mask – is a cheesy delight. With endless hidden items to spot in Chambers’ richly detailed, comic-style illustrations, Tahl’s joyful, energetic storytelling, and puns aplenty, Supermouse’s adventures are guaranteed to inspire a love of reading in the youngest of children.
(Little Tiger Press, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus
Dinos Don’t Give Up!
Smriti Halls and Richard Merritt

NOBODY could possibly be good at EVERYTHING… or could they? Imaginative bestselling author Smriti Halls and inventive illustrator Richard Merritt have fun with a dino-tastic story about a superstar dipolodocus who is a whizz at everything she turns her hand to… until she’s toppled by a surfboard! Diplodocus Dinah is BRILLIANT at everything. There’s nothing she can’t do and no competition she can’t win. But what happens when the Surfing Contest comes to Dino Town and Dinah discovers that surfing is something she just can’t dino-do! For the first time ever, Dinah doesn’t come first. Will she be distraught… or will she discover that that there’s more to having fun than winning? Halls is on her best rhyming form for this inspirational story about discovering your true grit and building the confidence to never give up, while Merritt’s vibrant gallery of illustrations bring to life the cast of colourful dinosaur characters and all the humour, fun and antics. Perfect for action and dinosaur fans!
(Little Tiger Press, hardback, £11.99)

Age 3 plus
Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam: Pirates Ahoy!
Tracey Corderoy and Steven Lenton

OOH ARR, there’s a party on board the pirate ship and the captain wants… cupcakes! Welcome back to another slice of baking adventures with reformed robbers turned detective dogs Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam who have swapped their life of crime for a career in cake-making. Shifty and Sam’s hilarious adventures are the work of multi-award-winning author Tracey Corderoy, who has written over 70 books for children, and star illustrator Steven Lenton, and this swashbuckling pirate-themed adventure sees our delightfully dogged detectives cooking up more than they had bargained for! Baking for a pirate party sounds fun to Shifty and Sam until they find themselves caught up in the middle of a robbery. Captain Sharpwhiskers and his criminal pirate crew in disguise have stolen Captain Chucklebeard’s treasure. Can Shifty and Sam catch those BAD pirates and bring back the loot? With Corderoy’s trademark warmth, wit and charm radiating from every page of this rhyming romp, Lenton’s busy, bold and fun-filled illustrations capturing all the piratical action, and an eye-catching, gold-foiled cover, this is the ideal book to love and share with all the family.
(Nosy Crow, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus
The Roar
Eoin McLaughlin and Polly Dunbar

EVERYONE needs a listening ear when things go wrong! Bestselling Irish children’s author Eoin McLaughlin and talented illustrator Polly Dunbar steal hearts (and win giggles!) with The Roar, another exquisitely imagined and illustrated picture book starring the adorable Hedgehog and Tortoise. With a quarter of a million copies sold in an outstanding series which has included the award-winning The Hug, While We Can’t Hug and The Longer the Wait, the Bigger the Hug – all books that spoke loudly to youngsters during the worst of the pandemic lockdowns – this inspirational pairing are back with the same winning formula of subtle simplicity, humour and tenderness. There were so many things that Tortoise wanted to do… so many games to play and rocks to climb. But oops, Tortoise is stuck and being stuck makes Tortoise cross. Tortoise isn’t having a good day because he’s stuck in a hole and is far too cross for hugs. But Hedgehog sits and waits and listens to his troubles… and then makes Tortoise laugh! And it’s all because the wise Owl told him that to cheer someone up, you have to first try to understand what they are feeling. McLaughlin’s gentle story and Dunbar’s delicate and emotive illustrations are the perfect combination to reassure little ones and help them understand their feelings of anger, frustration and upset. Simply beautiful…
(Faber Children’s Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age one plus
Spaceblock
Christopher Franceschelli and Peski Studio

THREE…two…one… blast off! Learn all about the wonders of space in this out-of-this-world trip to the stars and back. Spaceblock is the latest title in Abrams’ brilliant, collectible Block Book series and comes with the fantastic, full-colour artwork of Peski Studio, a husband-and-wife illustration and design team from Bristol. Ideal for young space fans, this entertaining and educational book invites readers to experience the historic Moon landing, learn about what modern astronauts do in space, read about the recent landing of Mars rover Perseverance, and discover how theMoon circles our planet. The super chunky Spaceblock includes vibrant artwork and cut-out pages on every spread and ten impressive gatefolds, including one that unfolds to an impressive thirty inches wide to showcase all the planets in our solar system. A picture perfect, interactive package of facts, fun and cosmic marvels offering the youngest children a whole new perspective on the wonderful world of space. And don’t miss the other books in the series: Alphablock, Countablock, Dinoblock, Cityblock, Buildablock, Farmblock, Loveblock and Sharkblock.
(Abrams Appleseed, board book, £12.99)

Age one plus
Bookscape Board Books:
Wild Animals
Ingela P. Arrhenius

IS there a toddler who can resist a book that stands to attention? Enjoy a day on the savannah with some wild and exotic creatures in the latest title in Chronicle Books’ unique and inventive Bookscape Board Books series. Each uniquely shaped page overlaps with the next to create a complete landscape when closed (whether viewed from the front or back) and offers an immersive world to explore with each turn of the page when open. In Wild Animals, a simple text and colourful illustrations introduce babies and toddlers to adorable animals of the savannah and act as a gentle lesson in the chronology of day and night. With artwork by celebrated illustrator and designer Ingela P. Arrhenius, these delightfully petite but chunky board books, with their unique layers and tactile, toy-like quality, are an irresistible gift. A novelty series that’s perfectly shaped for little hands!
(Chronicle Books, board book, £6.99)

Age one plus
Where’s My Turtle?
Kate McLelland

WHERE is Turtle hiding? She was here a moment ago. Can you find her? Help your curious little ones get interactive with this sturdy touch-and-feel board book which comes loaded with fun, discovery, word recognition development, and lots of visual and tactile appeal. A tantalising trail of colourful bubbles leads children past a touch-and-feel seahorse with an iridescent scaly skin, a whale with a bumpy tummy, and a seal with flappy flippers in the search for the green glowing Turtle. With Kate McLelland’s bright, appealing illustrations, discoveries on each spread, the allure of touchy-feely creatures, and a delightful flap ending, this enchanting series is ideal for young children. The perfect sharing book for babies and toddlers finding their way in the big, wide world!
(Little Tiger Press, board book, £6.99)

Age one plus
Who Said Roar?
Yi-Hsuan Wu 

SHARE giggles with your little ones as they discover who said Roar and who said Hiss! There is so much to enjoy in this gorgeously illustrated, interactive board book, full of animal sound guessing games and touchy-feely magic, as illustrator Yi-Hsuan Wu has fun with a cast of adorable characters. Who said ‘Roar’? Was it the sloth, and did the colourful chameleon say Snap? Pre-schoolers will love solving the mystery as they lift the peep-through flaps and touch the eye-catching, tactile pages to find out which noise matches which animal. With funny pairings, eye-catching illustrations, intriguing flaps to lift, and a surprise mirror ending to put little readers in the picture, this gorgeous book will be a hands-on hit with inquisitive babies and toddlers!
(Little Tiger Press, board book, £6.99)

Tuesday, 5 July 2022

The Girl from Liverpool

Elizabeth Morton

WHEN tough little Liverpool lass Peggy O’Shea sets eyes on handsome local boy Anthony Giardano at the tender age of eight, it feels like love at first sight… But a bitter feud between their families and the war that is already dangerously brewing in Europe means that these star-crossed young lovers are destined to face a series of divisions that may never be healed.

If a gripping blend of forbidden love, nostalgia and heartfelt emotions is your perfect reading recipe, then head off to Liverpool with actress Elizabeth Morton (pictured below) for a deliciously romantic saga for long summer nights.

Morton, who is married to actor Peter Davison of Doctor Who fame, has a keen eye for drama and her childhood years in Liverpool have armed her with a love and in-depth knowledge of both the city and what makes its people tick. And after success with A Liverpool Girl, A Last Dance in Liverpool and Angel of Liverpool, Morton returns once again to Merseyside for a gritty and evocative tale set in the years before and during the Second World War.

‘Irish as peat bogs and mouths on ’em like the Mersey Tunnel.’ The O’Shea family of Feather Street have a reputation for trouble, not least young Peggy, the skinny, red-haired girl with an upturned nose, a face full of freckles and lots of attitude.

But for as long as she can remember, Peggy has been expected to work at the family dairy, look after her younger siblings, and eventually marry cow-keeper Martin Gallagher.

And that’s the path her life has predictably followed, except for the unexpected delight of a glorious summer in 1930 when, at the age of eight, she meets good-looking Anthony Giardano  on the day of her confirmation at the local church. Peggy can’t take her eyes off altar boy Anthony with his olive skin, glossy hair and brown velvet eyes, and he won’t soon forget the girl with a wild temper and arresting silver-flecked blue eyes. But there is bad blood between the O’Sheas and the Italian Giardanos so, perhaps for the sake of both of their families, it’s a good thing when Anthony suddenly disappears.

Ten years later at the start of the war, Peggy bumps into Anthony again but as they begin to rekindle their long-lost friendship and attraction to each other, Italy joins forces with Germany, and Liverpool turns on its Italian residents overnight, making any relationship between Peggy and Anthony now seem virtually impossible…

The Girl from Liverpool is an enchanting and drama-filled tale filled with colourful characters, northern humour, rich detail of life and its hardships in Liverpool in the pre-war and wartime period, and the alluring love between two young people on opposite sides of a long-standing and mysterious feud. Readers cannot help but fall for feisty, straight-talking Peggy and her charming beau Anthony who face a barrage of obstacles both at home, and the wider stage of war and separation, in their battle to be together. 

With secrets to unfold, the uncertainties of wartime, the strong sense of community that has always been a hallmark of this close-knit northern city, and an entertaining slice of Scouse humour to enjoy, this is a rollercoaster journey you wouldn’t want to miss!
(Pan, paperback, £7.99)

Monday, 4 July 2022

A Fatal End

Faith Martin

WHEN the lead singer with a Sixties band dies at a back street club in Oxford, an inquest jury returns a verdict that his death was accidental. But the city coroner, Dr Clement Ryder, is suspicious and to prove his theory that Ray Reason’s death was not a tragic accident but the work of a killer, he is going to need the help of an undercover police officer.

For over 30 years, million-copy bestseller Faith Martin (pictured below) has been thrilling her readers with a raft of classy novels… written in four different genres and under four different pen names.

Feted for her smart and sassy DI Hillary Greene police series set in and around Oxford, Martin once again uses the dreaming spires of her home town for this brilliant Ryder and Loveday mystery series starring an unlikely and excitingly original crime-fighting partnership. Set in the early Sixties, when male detectives were misogynistic dinosaurs and women detectives were regarded as superfluous to requirements, these excitingly authentic whodunits feature a rookie policewoman and a middle-aged, old-school coroner who join forces to defy convention and dig out the truth.

In Oxford in 1963, those youngsters who think of themselves as ‘rebels’ can find no better place for a night out than the dark and dingy Bootleggers Club where, rumour has it, real criminals can be found, people dance the night away to their favourite band, and the bar staff turn a blind eye to under-age drinkers.

But behind the scenes, there is trouble… an argument is brewing between members of up-and-coming band, the Rainbirds, a bunch of young musicians in a different class to ‘the usual long-haired rabble.’ Ray Reason, blessed with brooding good looks, calls himself the lead singer but the truth is that lanky, ‘goofy-looking’ Marty Cuthbertson writes the music and shares the singing. And both young men have possessive girlfriends with ambitious plans for their partners. Lindy-Lou Kempson, Ray’s girl, is pregnant and wants to make sure he will ‘stick by her’ when he finds out. Marty’s fiery girlfriend, Jenny ‘Wren’ Renfrew, is equally determined that Ray isn’t going to take over from her boyfriend as leader of the band.

Meanwhile, the club manager, Felix Simpkins, is callously creaming off profits and wealthy, influential ‘star-maker’ Titus Crowther-Beauley is eyeing up the Rainbirds and hoping to make ‘a nice little gold mine’ out of the band. But what looks like a tragic accident leaves Ray Reason dead. His body was found halfway down a spiral staircase at the Bootleggers. An inquest jury decides it was an accidental fall but coroner Clement Ryder, known as the ‘old vulture,’ is not convinced.

Click HERE for Lancashire Post review

His trusted police contact, WPC Trudy Loveday, knows there’s only one thing for it… she is going to investigate undercover, deep in the underbelly of Oxford nightlife. But to help keep her safe, Trudy will be accompanied in her hunt for the truth by Clement’s architect son, Vincent, who is currently staying with his father. And all is not what it seems with Clement. He is fighting a secret battle with Parkinson’s disease and it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep his illness hidden. Vincent knows his father is struggling but Trudy is in the dark and it means discovering who murdered the singer might not be the only shock in store for the trusty police officer…

There is so much to love about A Fatal End, the eighth book in a gripping series noted for its labyrinthine plotting, stunning twists and turns, an exquisitely drawn cast of characters, and – without the help of modern technology – some wonderfully entertaining, good old-fashioned detective work. The feisty policewoman and the wise ‘old vulture’ are the dream team of contemporary, cosy crime fiction when it comes to delivering the sort of clever, complex detection work made famous by the likes of Agatha Christie and the other big names of the Golden Age.

Without the help of mobile phones, CCTV, the internet or forensics, the ailing but not quite down-and-out master and his brave and increasingly capable young ‘pupil’ steal the show in fine style in this baffling case set against the fascinating backdrop of the vibrant Sixties pop scene and a seedy back street nightclub. And once again Martin woos her readers with an intriguing line-up of suspects – from Ray’s volatile and vengeful girlfriend Lindy-Lou to the manipulative Titus – with the added bonus of a romantic frisson between Vincent and Trudy.

But there is also an air of melancholy and finality lingering around proceedings in Clement’s hunt for justice. Could this be the coroner’s swansong or has Martin got other plans for our odd couple sleuths? Another nail-biting mystery awaits…
(HQ, paperback, £8.99)

Wednesday, 29 June 2022

CHILDREN'S BOOKS: A sea mystery, dream dancing and canine capers

Enjoy a twisting, turning mystery starring a colour-changing octopus, put on your dancing shoes for fun at Blackpool Tower ballroom, share the troubles of a girl finding school full of challenges, join in all the chaos of double doggy dilemmas, and meet British tennis superstar and reigning US Open champion Emma Raducanu in a colourful collection of new books

Age 9 plus
My Friend the Octopus
Lindsay Galvin 

A GROUP of children go in search of their true colours in a fabulous new twisting, turning mystery from Lindsay Galvin, the bestselling author of Darwin’s Dragons. My Friend the Octopus is a thrilling, high-stakes aquatic adventure which packs in an addictive mix of mystery, adventure, science and natural history in an alluring and atmospheric story set in the sunshine of late Victorian Brighton.

In England in 1893, aquarium fever is at its height. Twelve-year-old Lavinia ‘Vinnie’ Fyfe from London is living with her Aunt Bets in Brighton and helping her manage the tea-shop at the resort’s aquarium while she waits for her milliner mother to return from Paris. A shy girl, Vinnie fears she has been abandoned by her mother but the arrival of a giant octopus at the aquarium changes her life for ever. Vinnie has always used her talent for art to draw her mother’s fancy hats but now she has a new source of inspiration to draw over and over again… the extraordinary, colour-changing sea creature which she has named Ghost. She soon realises she can communicate with the octopus through colour and – as a gripping mystery begins to unfold – Vinnie and her new-found friends, Charlie, an aspiring reporter, and Temitayo, the ward of an English gentleman, will find their courage put to the test with the arrival of a sinister visitor.

Galvin, a former science teacher, certainly knows how to put the fun into learning. The touching connection between a young girl and an octopus lies at the core of this inspirational story with its valuable natural history lessons and an exciting underwater twist. Blending a gripping adventure with a multi-faceted, historical mystery, My Friend the Octopus explores issues around human rights and the evils of sweatshops with a host of fascinating facts about the octopus… a creature with incredible intelligence, three hearts, nine brains and miraculous colour-changing camouflage. A thrilling mystery guaranteed to wrap its tentacles around your heart…
(Chicken House, paperback, £7.99)

Age 9 plus
Keep Dancing, Lizzie Chu
Maisie Chan

NEVER give up on your dreams! That’s the message that dances into the foreground in a funny and moving middle-grade novel from British-born Chinese author Maisie Chan. Blending an adventure, that begins in Glasgow and ends in Blackpool Tower’s magnificent ballroom, with an inspirational and heartwarming exploration of intergenerational family ties, this all-singing, all-dancing celebration is a sheer delight. Twelve-year-old Lizzie Chu lives in Glasgow with her grandad Wai Gong, and he has been acting a little strange lately. He is becoming forgetful and spends a lot of time talking to his statue of Guan Yin, the Chinese goddess of compassion, kindness and mercy. Lizzie is worried about Wai Gong, but doesn’t really know what to do to help him. She already has a lot on her plate with caring for him, doing the shopping and everything else on top of schoolwork and the usual trials of being twelve! Then Lizzie comes up with a madcap plan. She’s going to take Wai Gong on the trip of a lifetime, to Blackpool… to the Tower Ballroom, where he always longed to go, to dance with his late wife, Grandma Kam. Lizzie wants to rekindle his love for dancing and to see if Wai Gong can find his mojo again. The only problem is… how on earth is she going to get him there? With a little help from her friends Chi and Tyler, some ingenious costumes and an older brother with a beaten-up Mini, Lizzie might just make it… and maybe she will be able to help Wai Gong get better after all. Chan brings us a charming cast of characters, a story filled with love and humour, and a fabulous stage set that was just made to keep readers laughing and dancing all the way to the last page!
(Piccadilly Press, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus
A Flash of Fireflies
Aisha Bushby

COPING with the symptoms of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Order) can sometimes feel like you are battling demons… a theme turned into a fairy tale mystery in a moving middle grade novel from Aisha Bushby. Having suffered bouts of OCD since she was eight or nine, Bushby harnesses her own experiences and emotions for this heartfelt tale of family, friendship and finding your feet in a world that seems perplexing. After leaving Kuwait, Hazel Al-Otaibi’s new life in England should have been the stuff of fairy tales… after all her Great Aunt’s cottage looked just like a gingerbread house, with a magical garden and whispering fireflies promising quests and adventures. But as Hazel struggles to deal with the challenges of the everyday world – making friends, missing her family she also learns that every fairy tale has a dark side. And there are terrifying creatures that lurk in the shadows… Bushby is a born storyteller as she renders Hazel’s new world in England as uncertain and sometimes frightening. Using magic and the eternal mystique of fairy tales, Bushby also brings readers a subtle and sensitive exploration of immigration and identity. Full of hope, heart, thrilling atmospherics and a story that will educate and enchant, A Flash of Fireflies is both spellbinding and memorable.
(Farshore, paperback, £7.99)

Age 8 plus
Remarkably Ruby
Terri Libenson 

SCHOOL is full of challenges… just ask Ruby. Her best friend used to be Mia, her total opposite, but now they have nothing in common any more. Or do they? The new book in the bestselling Emmie & Friends graphic novel series from bestselling US author and cartoonist Terri Libenson is once more packed full of her lively illustrations and is perfectly pitched at the eight-plus age group who are just starting to learn the ways of the world. Ruby (aka the hilarious Baked Bean Girl) is an outsider at school who has always pushed other kids out of the way to get to the toilets and is now in the spotlight herself. She’s big for her age, doesn’t have the best reputation, and is a bit socially awkward. And it doesn’t help that she has lost Mia, her once closest friend. But life – and middle school – take a turn for the better when she is tasked with creating a poetry club. Suddenly, others start to see that there is more to Ruby than meets the eye! And maybe Ruby realises this too. But appearances mean everything to the perfectionist Mia and her embarrassing former friend Ruby is ruining her perfect image. And when the friction between them leads to a fight, Mia starts to question whether perfection is really something she should be striving for. Libenson’s funny, tender and insightful story about how there is more to everyone than meets the eye is full of relatable incidents, dialogue and friendship issues which are guaranteed to appeal to young readers.
(Harper360, paperback, £7.99)

Age 8 plus
Noodle the Doodle Wins the Day
Jonathan Meres and Katy Halford

SCHOOL sports day turns into canine chaos when everyone’s favourite pet (and occasionally pest!) Noodle the Doodle gets in on the action! Enjoy a warm welcome back to a new canine caper from stand-up comedian, author and actor Jonathan Meres. This is the third adventure with adorable class pet Noodle the Doodle in a super-funny series published by Barrington Stoke in their trademark dyslexia-friendly format. Illustrated throughout by Katy Halford, Noodle’s new adventures are full of hilarious mishaps and mayhem as our four-legged friend brings double doggy trouble at Wigley Primary. Sports day has arrived and everyone is excited to take part in unusual events like Book Balancing, Frisbee Throwing, a Tug of War and seeing who can race in the most layers of clothes! Of course, Noodle the Doodle, is desperate to join in all the fun but when he gets a new partner-in-crime, Daniel the spaniel, are the canine capers going to spiral out of control… or can Noodle win the day? First prize again to the ever-imaginative storyteller Meres for this warm, wise and laughter-packed adventure which celebrates friendship, fun and finding your self-confidence. Add on Halford’s gallery of playful black and white illustrations to bring the action to life, and you have a class act from a top team!
(Barrington Stoke, paperback, £6.99, published on July 7)

Age 8 plus
Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun
Tolá Okogwu

MEET Onyeka… a superhero girl with hair-raising powers! Black Panther meets Percy Jackson in this fantastic, all-action and empowering new middle-grade series from Tolá Okogwu, a British Nigerian author, journalist, and hair care educator. Starring a British-Nigerian girl who learns that her Afro hair has amazing psychokinetic powers, Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun packs in plenty of thrills and spills as well as exploring topical themes of identity, family and friendship. ‘I close my eyes, trying to push the power bubbling in me back down. Hairbands snap as my hair shoots out like superfine arrows, tearing through everything in its path.’ Onyeka has a lot of hair – the kind that makes strangers stop in the street. She has always felt insecure about her vibrant curls until she makes an important discovery… she can control her hair with her mind! Her mother quickly whisks her off to the Academy of the Sun, a school in Nigeria where Solari – children with superpowers – are trained. But Onyeka and her new friends at the Academy soon have to put their powers to the test as they find themselves caught up in an epic battle… one that puts the future of all Solari at risk. Onyeka proves to be a courageous and inspirational hero as she discovers – through trials and tribulations – that the greatest power comes from within herself. With a cast of charismatic characters, fun, fantasy and friendships to enjoy, this super heartwarming series certainly won’t be hair today and gone tomorrow!
(Simon & Schuster Children’s Books, paperback, £7.99)

Age 7 plus
Bunny vs Monkey: Rise of the Maniacal Badger
Jamie Smart

GET ready for more side-splitting laughs as Bunny and Monkey bounce back in an exhilarating remastered comic-book series that delivers all the comedy and chaos of the daffy duo’s helter-skelter world! This outrageously funny series from comic genius Jamie Smart collects together Bunny vs Monkey’s adventures and misadventures in a never before published book form with an easy-to-read, chunky format featuring 230 pages of fast and furry-ous exuberant fun. The books are part of the Phoenix Presents series, published by David Fickling Books in partnership with The Phoenix comic. The partnership is going from strength to strength and much of that success is due to Smart’s extraordinarily talents. In this latest adventure, the Maniacal Badger has arrived and he’s determined to take over the Woods. But wasn’t that also Monkey’s plan? This cannot happen…  What japes await when Bunny and Monkey team up to beat this new menace! They've never managed to work together before. And will Skunky rediscover his passion for evil inventions, to defeat his rival at their own game? One thing's for sure… giggles are guaranteed! Outrageously funny and fabulously illustrated, these manic, high-energy stories were just made for reluctant readers who like their books to come with plenty of comic-strip pictures and loads of laughs. Madcap antics for your action kids!
(David Fickling Books, paperback, £8.99, published on July 7)

Age 6 plus
Sports Superstars: Raducanu Rules
Simon Mugford and Dan Green

SERVE up an ace for Wimbledon fortnight with a fantastic new book in the sparkling Sports Superstars series from everyone’s favourite sports pairing, writer Simon Mugford and illustrator Dan Green. This visual series of illustrated sporting biographies is aimed at building a love of reading from a young age, with fun cartoons, inspirational stories, a simple narrative style and a cast of characters chipping in with quotes, jokes and comments. Here we meet British tennis superstar and reigning US Open champion Emma Raducanu. Emma only turned professional in 2018 but the 18-year-old has already taken the game by storm. The signs were already there when she made her main draw Grand Slam debut at the 2021 Wimbledon Championships and reached the quarter final. But it was her amazing triumph at the 2021 US Open that has shocked the world and made her into a household name. Packed with cool facts and delightfully fun illustrations, Emma’s remarkable story is a page-turner for young fans who want to be inspired by the new golden girl of tennis. Game, set and match to Emma!
(Welbeck Publishing, paperback, £5.99)

Age 5 plus
The Hat Full of Secrets
Karl Newson and Wazza Pink

THE magical bond between a child and his grandfather is celebrated in fun style in a new book in a highly illustrated, full-colour fiction range from the creative book boffins at Little Tiger Press. With their enchanting stories and brightly coloured, glossy pages, these chapter books are ideal for newly independent readers and youngsters who regard picture books as too babyish. In The Hat Full of Secrets, we meet Henry Pepper who has got a secret (a big one!) and he doesn’t know what to do with it. Grandad suggests he should keep it under his hat but Henry doesn’t have a hat. Luckily Grandad has one to spare and it’s just the hat for the job. But when Henry puts it on, he discovers that Grandad has some secrets of his own! Words maestro Karl Newson delivers a delightfully lyrical and timeless tale full of family love, imagination and the memories we make and treasure, and all brought to vivid life by Vietnamese artist Wazza Pink’s gallery of vibrant, emotive and action-packed illustrations. A heartwarming tale to read alone or share with the family.
(Little Tiger Press, paperback, £5.99, published on July 7)

Age 3 plus
A Seed Grows
Antoinette Portis

‘A seed falls, And settles into the ground, And the sun shines, And the rain comes down, And the seed grows…’
SOW the seeds of a lifelong love for the natural world and its many wonders with a beautifully created picture book bursting with fun, facts… and sunflowers! US author and illustrator Antoinette Portis’ enchanting book explores how a seed becomes a sunflower, inviting youngsters to peek beneath the soil and wait patiently as winding roots grow, a stalk inches out of the earth, and new seeds emerge among blooming petals. With an eye-catching gallery of bold and evocative illustrations, and a simple text, A Seed Grows offers a close-up view of each step of the growth process and the ways in which flowers and seeds depend on other creatures. Little ones will love feasting their eyes and minds on Portis’ fresh and original approach to exploring the natural world through lyrical words, outstanding artwork, a striking fold-out spread of a full-grown sunflower, and the bonus of additional material at the back of the book explaining the science of plant life cycles. Idea for reading aloud and sharing, the book is both a beautiful work of art and a source of education, entertainment and discovery.  
(Scallywag Press, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus
Tiny Crab is a Tidy Crab
Paula Bowles 

AUTHOR and illustrator Paula Bowles gets her claws into the hearts of little ones with a beautiful picture book starring a caring crab whose greatest love is looking after his beach. Tiny Crab is a tidy crab, and a crab who loves his beach. So, when he invites a few friends to come and join his favourite place, he knows they will look after it, too… won’t they? But what if they don’t? And, worse, what if LOTS of friends arrive then leave rubbish everywhere, which Tiny Crab is forced to tidy up. Maybe even the smallest voices need to make themselves heard. With a fun but resonant environmental message about keeping our planet clean and tidy, a celebration of the rewards of friendship and caring for each other, a cast of adorable animal characters, and a gallery of Bowles’ gorgeous, heart-melting illustrations, this is the perfect book for your own young eco-warriors.
(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus
I Spy Island: Book vs. Shark
Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet

WELCOME back to I Spy Island, a happy place where adventures wash in with the tide… and the fun begins! Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet, everyone’s favourite husband and wife picture book team, and creators of the bestselling Supertato! books, sail back into view with the second adventure in their unmissable new series. In the middle of the ocean, miles from anywhere, is a happy little island who loves to play I Spy...  Join Island, Glove, Banana, Bird, Bottle and Treasure Chest on their second sunny adventure as they spy a book which has washed up on Island's chin and finds that it has lost its story, and a shark who just might eat them all simply because he’s bored! Can Book convince the Shark that it can’t be bored when there are so many exciting and amazing things to see, visit and do in the world? This terrific tale of fun and friendship – illustrated in a rainbow of vibrant colour – celebrates just some of the wonders of the world and the sheer brilliance of books.
(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £6.99, published on July 7)

Age 3 plus
The Fairy Dogmother
Caroline Crowe and Richard Merritt

WAGRACADABRA… meet the Fairy Dogmother who makes wishes come true! The joys of friendship and the rewards of putting others first speak loudly and clearly in a captivating picture book from the inspirational team of author Caroline Crowe and illustrator Richard Merritt. Cinders loves living at Woofington’s Dog Shelter. He has fantastic food, a cosy bed, fabulous friends and lots of holes to dig. So when, one day, Priscilla Paws, his Fairy Dogmother appears, whatever will he wish for? His pals all have their own ideas… sausages, a bone and being able to finally catch his tail. But the clock is ticking for Cinders to make a decision and with everyone else’s wishes coming thick and fast, Cinders might run out of time! Crowe’s fabulously fresh and funny story has a delightful twist in its fairy ‘tail’ as Cinders unexpectedly finds his forever family… and the happy ending he longs for. Ideal for reading aloud, and with pups aplenty and Merritt’s gallery of brightly coloured, bold and adorable illustrations, this magical blend of woofs, wags and wishes cooks up the perfect picture book recipe for your young dog-lovers!
(Little Tiger Press, paperback, £6.99, published on July 7)

Tuesday, 28 June 2022

Devil’s Table

Kate Rhodes

WHEN an 11-year-old girl goes missing on the small Scilly island of St Martin’s, her wealthy father is convinced it is just another ‘prank’ by his spirited twin daughter. But the child’s worried mother is not so sure and soon Detective Inspector Ben Kitto, Deputy Commander of the Island Police, is launching a desperate hunt that will lead to the discovery of a body at an ancient, altar-shaped rock formation known as the Devil’s Table.

Welcome back to the Scilly Isles, the stunning backdrop to a series of ‘locked-island’ mysteries from the pen of acclaimed crime novelist Kate Rhodes whose annual childhood holidays at this tourism hotspot off the Cornish coast have spawned a string of superbly created crime thrillers.

Loved by readers and critics for their perfect pacing, clever plotting and lyrical writing, these addictive stories have included the page-turners Hell Bay, Ruin Beach, Burnt Island and Pulpit Rock, and now Rhodes (pictured below) brings us a new and wonderfully atmospheric mystery set deep in the heart of a fog-bound winter.

One December night when a thick sea fog blows across the island of St Martin’s, twins Jade and Ethan Minear sneak out of their home on a large flower farm in the middle of the night and are attacked in a field where their father grows narcissi.

Ethan, the twin who was born second and was always ‘destined to play catch-up forever,’ manages to escape the attacker and runs home. But the shocking events of Jade’s disappearance (the twin who acted as Ethan’s ‘voice’) have rendered him mute and unable to tell his parents or the police what happened.

When DI Ben Kitto is called to the twins’ home, the children’s father, Scott Minear, initially believes Jade has run away and is just being her usual ‘drama queen’ but his wife, Gemma, is tense and edgy, and worried that there is a connection to a lump of rock, which had the words ‘Devil’s Table’ scrawled on it, and was recently thrown through their living room window. On a small island where there are only 140 inhabitants and few places a child can hide, Ben must battle the elements to search for Jade and when his investigation reveals that the Minear family, the richest on the island, have many enemies, Ben grows increasingly worried that the girl is in danger.

Meanwhile, someone on the island knows exactly where Jade is… someone with a deep-seated hatred of Jade’s family. To find the truth, Ben must investigate the lives of the people he has known all of his life. Because one of them is lying... and it isn’t long before a body is found at the Devil’s Table.

It’s no surprise that Rhodes has been dubbed ‘a twenty-first century Agatha Christie’ as her addictive mysteries always feature a cast of exquisitely fleshed-out characters, an intriguing plot that neatly twists and turns its way through all the action and drama, and the kind of lyrical writing that one would expect from an author who is also an award-winning poet. But also playing a major role in these complex and satisfying crime tales is Rhodes’ authentic sense of place… a gripping evocation of a dazzling landscape that can be rendered both beautiful and menacing, and a collection of small, claustrophobic communities that can be both welcoming and deeply suspicious of ‘incomers.’

At the heart of the investigation is our likeable and dependable Ben Kitto, a giant of man with a gentle soul whose life has been overshadowed by a tragedy but whose sense of justice and fair play never falters as he digs deep to unearth the truth. Add on one of the shining stars of these top-notch thrillers – Ben’s faithful and sharp-nosed wolfdog Shadow – and you have a series that shows no sign of flagging!
(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £8.99)

Here for the Drama

Kate Bromley 

TAKE a seat, make yourself comfortable and enjoy the show because Kate Bromley, a consummate entertainer and writer of ‘swoon-worthy’ rom-coms, is back with a sexy romp that puts heart and humour at centre stage.

New Yorker Bromley (pictured below), whose sizzling debut novel, Talk Bookish To Me, certainly turned up the heat with readers, is back to woo us with another crowd-pleasing romance starring an aspiring American playwright and her hot (but forbidden!) love for a dashing Englishman.

Playing on the eternally popular blend of flirtatious wit and the tensions of a couple sharing a fiery, secret passion, Here for the Drama is full of the razor-sharp repartee, simmering sexual chemistry and adorable characters that are fast becoming this clever writer’s trademark. So meet Winnie who has a decade of drama studies to her name and dreams of becoming a famous playwright. With her own career plans on hold, she has had to settle for a job in New York as PA to the celebrated, sharp-witted feminist playwright Juliette Brassard.

It’s a full-on role, fetching and carrying behind the scenes, but Winnie has been working on her own play for a writing contest which she hopes to win and finally wipe away the painful memories of an incident in the past that sapped her confidence.

But only a few weeks before she must meet the deadline to submit her major opus, an experimental theatre company in London’s West End decides to stage Juliette’s most renowned play and Winnie has to join her boss for a hop across the pond.

However, the trip takes a wrong turn when Juliette, who is trying to break an eight-year writer’s block, stubbornly clashes with the play’s director and Winnie is left stage-managing their relationship.

Meanwhile, Winnie’s own work seems to have stalled, and although Juliette keeps promising to read the play-in-progress, she always has some vague reason why she can’t. And by this point, Juliette’s nephew, Liam, has entered stage left. He’s tall, handsome, quick-witted and charmingly English… but when Juliette notices her assistant is distracted, she forbids Winnie from seeing Liam, making sneaking around backstage even more thrilling. Balancing a production seemingly headed for disaster, a secret romance and her recently acquired rescue dog Ollie, can Winnie save the play, make her own playwriting dreams come true… and find her true love along the way?

This heart-fluttering, laughter-packed romance about friendship and chasing your dreams proves to be a five-star production as Bromley’s immaculate script includes the wittiest of love play, and all the on and off-stage drama and action that one would expect from a plot rooted in the wonderfully eclectic world of theatre. But this is not just a straightforward, feel-good rom-com… there are some complex emotional insecurities and legacies to be worked through in the backstories of the vibrant lead players as past trials and tribulations are revealed.

And there are more stars in this story than winsome Winnie and the luscious Liam as Bromley surrounds the star-crossed lovers with a cast of super-seductive supporting characters, not least the needy but nice Juliette, and Winnie’s show-stealing spaniel puppy Ollie. Smart, sassy, sultry, and with a sparkling dialogue that shines out from every page, Here for the Drama is an unmissable performance!
(Zaffre, paperback, £8.99)

Monday, 27 June 2022

Killer Collections

Dark Artifacts from True Crime

Paul Gambino 

WHY do people commit heinous acts of violence, why do some seem to be pure evil, and why are they sometimes released from prison only to kill again and again?

Delve into the dark and dangerous side of humanity with Paul Gambino’s intriguing overview of artifacts and ephemera relating to some of the world’s most infamous criminals and criminal acts, and discover why some people choose to collect items from society’s darkest and most inhumane moments.

Gambino (pictured below) – bestselling author of Morbid Curiosities and Skulls – has been an avid collector of the macabre for over 20 years and owns an extensive collection of Victorian memorial photographs, antique funeral items, mug shots, and vintage religious items. But his two decades of collecting have also gained him access to some of the world’s most elite collectors of the macabre and Killer Collections is the first book documenting the most morbid true crime artifacts while offering new insights into the perpetrators’ troubling psychology and infamous crimes.

Featuring 175 specially commissioned photographs, as well as access to the best private collections, the book is a curious and compelling social and cultural history of true crime, but is also unafraid to dig into ‘the shallow grave of the human psyche’ to understand why some people are drawn to collecting what is known in some circles as ‘murderabilia.’

Gambino introduces readers to the collectors who have unique and privileged access to dozens of dangerous and disturbed perpetrators, including American serial killer John Wayne Gacy, 1970s serial killer Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Lionel Dahmer known as the Milwaukee Cannibal, Richard Ramirez dubbed the Night Stalker, and former US Army soldier David Berkowitz who became a serial killer.

From an 18th century hangman’s noose to cult leader and killer Charles Manson’s cremation ashes, a document signed by 19th century axe murders suspect Lizzie Borden and the circular saw confiscated from the home of Robert Berdella, the infamous Kansas City Butcher, many of these pieces will be shown outside private collections for the very first time. This unique book offers a rare opportunity to explore numerous personal archives, showcasing murder weapons, crime scene photography, police files, diaries, letters and other criminal ephemera, alongside the fascinating and often disturbing stories behind them. Murder most foul…
(Laurence King Publishing, hardback, £25)