Wednesday, 14 April 2021

CHILDREN'S BOOKS: Brain power, fabulous fossils and stolen treasure

Discover the inside of our amazing brains, walk in the footsteps of the first fossil hunters, join a colourful quest for stolen treasure in Ancient Egypt, and find out exactly what a virus is in a springtime selection of exciting children’s books

Age 7 plus
The Usborne Book of the Brain and How It Works
Betina Ip and Mia Nilsson

DID you know that your brain does 1,001 different jobs… and lots of them all at once! Take a journey through your brain and discover its fascinating workings and capabilities – from helping you to sleep to enabling you to learn – in this fact and fun-filled book from Usborne, Children’s Publisher of the Year 2020. Author and neuroscientist, Dr Betina Ip, has taken the complex topic of how our brains work and made it both fun and accessible for younger children to help them understand brain function, whether that’s recognising their emotions or learning how to look after their brains.

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Using a visual, child-friendly concept and the stunning, full-colour illustrations of Mia Nilsson throughout, simple but beautifully illustrated metaphors are used to explain the different jobs that our brains do, and how they use brain cells to accomplish them.

From neurons, the senses and sleep to the memory store, making decisions, electrical messaging and the ‘learning garden,’ this book of easy-to-understand biology brings the wonder of brains and brain science to life. A ‘no-brainer’ choice for home learning, school shelves… and curious youngsters!
(Usborne, hardback, £12.99)

Age 8 plus
Fossils From Lost Worlds
Hélène Rajcak and Damien Laverdunt

IF you thought palaeontology was as dry as old bones, then take a walk in the footsteps of the first fossil researchers and discover a vibrant prehistoric world! This exciting large-format book is brimming with fascinating facts, all revealed through comic panels and full-page illustrations, and offering an extraordinary insight into the studies of palaeontology itself.

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Discover the earliest animal life on Earth as you explore the story of a spiny sea worm without tail or head, a walking fish, a peaceful sea dragon, and the Archaeopteryx, the oldest ever bird whose fossilised discovery proved the link between birds and dinosaurs. Both entertaining and informative, Fossils From Lost Worlds shows how science is a process of thinking and rethinking, questioning and learning. Through an illustrated timeline of animal reconstructions, important personalities and key discoveries, readers can track beliefs and theories that have brought our knowledge to where it is today.

With humour, elegant and richly detailed illustrations, a truly wonderful range of fossils and prehistoric creatures to enjoy, and an addictive sense of adventure throughout, this is learning made fun… and funny!
(Gecko Press, hardback, £14.99)

Age 4 plus
Lift the Flap First Questions and Answers: What is a Virus?
Katie Daynes, Dr Caitriona Cox
and Kirsti Beautyman

AS school gets back into full swing, it’s important that even the youngest children understand how and why our lives have been taken over by a tiny germ that we can’t even see.

In the new addition to Usborne Publishing’s Lift-the-Flap First Questions and Answer series, authors Katie Daynes and Dr Caitriona Cox, a medic who combines clinical work with bioethics research, tackle the whole question of viruses in an accessible and reassuring way for children, parents, teachers and carers.

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What IS a virus, how do viruses spread, why should everyone keep washing their hands, how does a vaccine work, and what can we do to stay well are just some of the frequently asked questions explored in this easy-to-understand, lift-the-flaps book. All these questions and more are answered in a friendly, engaging and helpful way, accompanied by Kirsti Beautyman’s quirky illustrations and all the fun of lifting the flaps.

Dr Cox says of the book, ‘Science education is incredibly important across all ages, but helping children to make sense of the pandemic through understanding viruses is particularly vital.’  And this invaluable book is the go-to source of information… without causing alarm or concern in children.
(Usborne, board book, £9.99)

Age 3 plus
The Mystery of the Golden Pyramid
Adela Norean and Aaron Cushley

A TALKING dog, a jewelled casket and a quest for stolen treasure! Mystery, excitement and adventure are never far away in this fabulous picture book – brimming with flaps to lift and holes to peep through – from the vivid imaginations of author Adela Norean and Belfast illustrator Aaron Cushley.

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When Sophie walks into the bedroom of her new home, she discovers an extraordinary dog called Ari waiting to take her on a magical Egyptian adventure full of puzzles, pharaohs, pyramids and precious amulets. Lift the flaps and peep through the holes to help her save King Nebra and solve the mystery of the golden pyramid. Norean’s spectacular, all-action mystery story is brought to glorious and colourful life by Cushley’s extraordinarily rich and detailed illustrations, and with its eye-catching and luxurious gold-foiled cover, this is the perfect gift book for your own little Ancient Egyptian adventurers!
(Little Tiger Press, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus
Ruffles and the Red, Red Coat
David Melling 

WHEN a toddler doesn’t like something, they really, really don’t like it! Laugh along with adorable puppy Ruffles in a brilliant new series from David Melling as this award-winning and acutely observant author and illustrator perfectly captures all those tricky, troublesome two-plus tantrums and triumphs of toddler life.

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Ruff! Ruff! Hello, Ruffles! Ruffles is a typical pre-schooler who experiences all the highs and lows of life as he learns about the world around him. There are lots of things he likes…and lots of things he doesn’t like! He loves scratching, digging and chewing but he does NOT like wearing his coat on rainy days. No, no, no, no, no! But when Ruffles wants to splash in puddles with his best friend Ruby, he soon learns that some things are definitely worth wearing your coat for.

Melling blends an easy-to-read, fun-filled tale – using repetition and visual humour – with multi-coloured, emotive animal illustrations which are guaranteed to strike a chord with your own mischievous pups!
(Nosy Crow, hardback, £9.99)

Age 3 plus
Esme’s Rock
Simon Philip and Magda Brol

BEING small doesn’t mean that you can’t make a BIG difference! Travel back to the Stone Age with a clever and comical picture book from tip-top team author Simon Philip and illustrator Magda Brol whose message about making your voice heard comes over loud and clear.

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Esme is a small cave girl who is energetic, curious and very friendly. She also has the kind of voice that’s great for keeping big things with sharp teeth away but isn’t so great for keeping secrets, like the plans for Morris the mammoth’s birthday surprise. But when the birthday surprise is in danger of not being finished on time, it is Esme’s booming voice that brings people together, makes sure the job is done, and allows the party to go with a real swing!

Philip packs his warm-hearted, inspirational story with comical parallels to our familiar, contemporary world whilst encouraging ideas of shared endeavour, community spirit and the rewards of inclusion. Add on Brol’s lively and endearing illustrations and you have a story that will speak volumes to readers of every age.
(Oxford University Press, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus
Ig Pig and Og Frog!
Sophie Burrows

MEET Ig Pig and Og Frog… they’re super cool, crazy loud and the very best of friends! Well, they were until Bog (the Other Frog) came along and then everything fell apart…

Newly minted author and illustrator Sophie Burrows makes a spectacular debut (and a splash!) with this super-sparkling and thoroughly heartwarming picture book about the trials and tribulations of friendship… and jealousy. Ig and Og are a team of two and the best of friends. They do everything together, including splashing in the lake, eating big juicy worm burgers, making massive mud men and playing in a totally rocking rock band. Until Og meets someone else… Bog the Other Frog! And Ig starts feeling VERY left out.

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Find out how Ig deals with jealousy and observe how he learns that tantrums don’t yield the right results in this irresistibly joyful and playful tale from a wonderful new talent in the world of children’s books. Using comedy, chaos and a gallery of high-energy, colourful illustrations to relay messages about the precious nature of friendship and the importance of making space for others to join your circle of friends, Ig Pig and Og Frog! is destined to be a family favourite.
(David Fickling Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus
This is NOT a Unicorn!
Barry Timms and Ged Adamson

SHARE laughter and larks in a magical rhyming romp as top author and illustrator team Barry Timms and Ged Adamson let their imaginations take flight… with a very special unicorn! Timms’ addictive wordplay and Adamson’s visual wizardry combine in the most delightful way as we meet a lovable unicorn in a story that is NOT about a unicorn, or well… OK, maybe it is!

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But THIS unicorn has a horn that can turn into the most incredible things… a magic wand, a helicopter, a triple pancake flipper, a balloon blower, a trumpeter and even a space rocket flying to the moon. Little ones will love joining the hilarious adventure and will be amazed by their brilliant new friend who might – or might not – be a magical unicorn.

With a funny and sweet friendship at its heart, this quirky, fabulously illustrated story will appeal to both girls and boys and, like all Nosy Crow paperback picture books, comes with a free ‘Stories Aloud’ audio recording. Just scan the QR code and listen along!
(Nosy Crow, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus
A to Z: an Alphabet of Animals
Harriet Evans and Linda Tordoff

LEARNING your letters has never been so much animal-shaped fun! This brilliantly inventive lift-the-flap book offers pre-schoolers a bright and intelligent experience as they lift the flaps on every page and meet a multi-coloured cast of animals, from a snappy alligator to a happy zebra.

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Harriet Evans’ simple text is perfectly paired with stunning illustrations from talented artist Linda Tordoff, and the sturdy flaps are ideal for little learners getting to grips with their letters. With all the fun of discovering which animals are hiding behind the different letters of the alphabet, inquisitive youngsters will be in a flip, flap frenzy to get their hands on this colourful book… and soon reciting their ABC!
(Caterpillar Books, board book, £7.99)

Tuesday, 13 April 2021

The Hit List

Holly Seddon 

WHAT would you do if you found your name on an assassin’s online hit list? London teacher Marianne Heywood thought she was living a very ordinary life until her husband was killed in a road accident and a year later, she decides to surf through his laptop in search of the man she loved and lost.

What she finds there is so shocking that she starts to question all the she knows about him, their years together… and her own hoard of secrets and lies.

Be prepared for a twisting, turning nightmare journey into the disturbing recesses of the Dark Web in a gripping new tale from Holly Seddon (pictured below), author of bestselling thrillers like Try Not To Breathe, Don’t Close Your Eyes and Love Will Tear Us Apart.

This is a writer who knows how to chill and thrill her readers and The Hit List – featuring an intriguing cast of narrative voices – comes with large helpings of mystery, shocking revelations and deadly danger as we are thrust into an underworld where cruelty, brutality and inhumanity are only ever a heartbeat away.

It’s exactly a year since 34-year-old Marianne’s husband, charity worker Greg Darrow, was killed in a road accident on his motorbike and although a new relationship wasn’t what she had been looking for, the new man in her life, widower Noah, is the perfect man to understand the grief she still suffers almost every day.

On the anniversary night of Greg’s death, Marianne returns to the flat in Hackney where she lived with Greg and plans to spend the evening ‘drowning herself’ with everything he left behind. She wears his shirt and cologne, reads their love letters again, and opens up his laptop to browse through his emails.

But as she follows his footsteps across cyberspace, desperate to cling on to any trace of him, she finds – with a punch to her gut – that Greg has been accessing the Dark Web, a wormhole beneath the normal internet, ‘an illegal place, filled with the worst of everything and where anything is available at a price.’

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And in the final tab that Greg left open on his browser, Marianne finds a site called Assassin Supermarket Hacked… and a hit list with her name on it. The assassin hired to kill her is called Sam and to try to save herself, she must first unpick the wicked web in which Greg – the mild-mannered husband liked by everyone – had become tangled. Was Greg trying to protect her… or did he want her dead?

The Hit List proves to be a true rollercoaster ride through powerful emotions as we join Marianne on her travels to some of the darkest places known to man, and share the unsettling and perilous truths that she uncovers at every juncture. The intensity of Marianne’s story is all the more electrifying as her starting point is that of a grieving widow in search of comforting memories of the husband she still desperately misses… and instead she stumbles across a world she could never have imagined, and into the line of fire of a ruthless killer.

Superbly plotted, brimming with menace, intrigue and suspense, and moving at a speed of knots, The Hit List will hit the spot with all fans of clever crime with an ingenious – and sometimes terrifying – premise.
(Trapeze, paperback, £8.99)

The Orphan of Ironbridge

Mollie Walton 

LEFT alone in the world at a tender age, Hettie Jones from Shropshire has known only love from the kind, working class family who took her in and cared for her as their own. But when a rich elderly widow transforms her life by offering her a job as a lady’s maid, Hettie finds herself caught perilously between two worlds… and at the mercy of a woman whose jealousy will bring only trouble.

Welcome back to the third and final book in a gripping, drama-packed saga series set against the fascinating backdrop of Ironbridge’s brick and ironwork foundries which became the beating heart of the nation’s industrial revolution.

Mollie Walton (pictured below), pseudonym of historical novelist Rebecca Mascull, reveals she was inspired to write this exciting series on a trip to Shropshire where she gazed down from the world-famous iron bridge near Telford… the pioneering structure which marked a turning point in English design and engineering.

And after the success of The Daughters of Ironbridge and The Secrets of Ironbridge, which introduced readers to families from both sides of the rigid 19th century class divide, Walton sweeps us back to 1875 to catch up with three generations of women whose lives and loves are forever prey to the fickle winds of fortune.

Hettie Jones was born and has grown up in Ironbridge. She has never known her father, Adam Jones, who was transported to Australia in a convict ship sixteen years ago, and, since her mother Martha’s death, Hettie has been brought up by the Malone family who treat her as one of their own.

She works as a pit bank girl at the local coal mine where she picks out the lumps of ironstone from piles of weather-hardened clay. The job is hard but honest and simple and she enjoys working in the outdoors and the camaraderie with the other pit girls.

Hettie has spent her life alongside the Malones’ son Evan, a tall, handsome lad who was her childhood playfellow and whose friendship seems now to be blossoming into something more. Evan is a miner who works long hours underground at the pit and he is ‘her sun and her moon.’

But when Queenie King, an elderly woman with a chequered past and from a wealthy pit-owning family, takes a fancy to her, Hettie’s life is transformed. Queenie is determined to make up for terrible mistakes from decades ago and giving this girl new opportunities is part of her plan.

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Trained first as a lady’s maid, and then hurtled into a world of luxury and gentility, Hettie soon finds her new position difficult to reconcile with her past life. And with Queenie’s vindictive daughter-in-law Benjamina scheming against her, Hettie’s situation becomes dire. Can Hettie use her new position to do the good work she had hoped for, and will she find a way to bridge the divide between rich and poor?

A compelling blend of real history, rich period detail, and a gritty, authentic story brimming with love, loss, intrigue, hope, and bitter revenge, The Orphan of Ironbridge delivers a dramatic final chapter to this exciting trilogy. Walton is masterful at evoking the struggles, hardship and back-breaking working conditions of the men and women whose toil – both underground and above ground – were at the heart of the industrial revolution.

Here, Walton pays tribute not just to their often grinding work and the consequent suffering but the camaraderie and community spirit which, she laments, can sometimes feel lacking in this day and age. The contrasts between the privileged life of the rich and the families who toil in their factories and foundries are exposed in stark relief as Hettie battles to find her way through the tough social barriers.

With each character superbly portrayed, emotions high and passions powerful, and the bonds between friends and family movingly explored, this is a captivating story written with warmth and insight and the perfect finale to a fascinating series.
(Zaffre, paperback, £7.99)

Monday, 12 April 2021

Rites of Spring

Anders de la Motte 

A CRUMBLING medieval castle set amidst the marshy, unforgiving forests of southern Sweden, the terrifying legend of a ghostly Green Man who demands a spring sacrifice… and a host of dark and deadly secrets.

If you thought a Swedish spring brought only bright sunshine, beautiful countryside and stunning coastal walks, then you haven’t yet entered the spine-tingling world created by a former police officer who has magically morphed into a master storyteller.

Rites of Spring is Scandi-crime at its best and the latest book in Anders de la Motte’s (pictured below) stunning Seasons Quartet, which includes the three standalone novels End of Summer, Deeds of Autumn and Dead of Winter, all number one bestsellers in Sweden, and all set to be published by Zaffre. These enthralling books – flawlessly translated by Marlaine Delargy – have earned their author a shortlisting for the Swedish Academy of Crime Writers’ Award for Best Crime Novel of the Year, and this atmospheric, spring-themed mystery weaves menacingly between past and present as a disturbing ritualistic murder from thirty years ago comes back to haunt a tight-knit, backwater community.

On the night of Walpurgis, the eve of May Day, in the town of Tornaby in the southern Swedish county of Skåne, bonfires are traditionally lit to ward off evil spirits and preparations are made to celebrate the renewal of spring.

Local legend has it that the Green Man, a ghostly impression of a face imprinted on an ancient oak tree in the forests surrounding the medieval Bokelund Castle, takes on human form on this night and that he demands spring gifts or sacrifices to hasten the return of life.

But in 1986, the legend took a sinister turn when Elita Svart, a 16-year-old local girl, was found ritualistically murdered in the woods near the castle. Her body – clothed in a white dress and with a bloodstained handkerchief over her beautiful face – was laid on a sacrificial slab in the middle of a stone circle.

Elita’s stepbrother was convicted of the terrible deed and shortly after, the entire family vanished without a trace. Most residents of Tornaby believe it was a family tragedy, ‘a dreadful but simple story’ but others say it was the Green Man himself who claimed her as his ‘spring sacrifice.’

In spring of 2019, former medic with Médecins Sans Frontières, Dr Thea Lind, moves into Bokelund Castle with her husband David Nordin who is returning to his home town after twenty years as a successful chef and restaurant owner in Stockholm. David and two childhood friends are planning to open a new restaurant in the castle – now owned by a foundation with his mother Ingrid at the head – to promote the traditional cuisine of Skåne.

Thea and David both have secrets that they never share, and when Thea makes a strange discovery in an ancient oak tree in the castle grounds, her fascination with the murder of Elita Svart is awakened and she decides to investigate the death herself. David doesn’t want to talk about Elita even though he knew her and as Thea uncovers more and more similarities between her own troubled past and the murdered girl, she begins to believe that the real truth of the killing was never uncovered. What if the spring of 1986 claimed more than one victim?

Rites of Spring is one of the classiest Scandi-noirs you will read this year… a mesmerising amalgam of creepy folklore, festering secrets, dark truths and a damp and mouldering Scandinavian landscape rendered so dark and brooding that it becomes a principal player in this slow-burn, addictive tale. De la Motte uses several, intriguing narrative voices which add an extra layer of mystery and menace to a host of shocking revelations, not just about events and people in the secretive, suspicion-wracked town of Tornaby, but also in the elusive past lives of Thea and David.

As the two timelines collide, the claustrophobia of the guarded, superstitious community intensifies and a series of plot twists uncoil like a basket of slithering serpents waiting to pounce on their unsuspecting victims. With shades of The Wicker Man and Stieg Larsson, and a story that consumes the reader from the first, unsettling chapter to a final, jaw-dropping flourish, this a top-notch opener to what promises to be a treat for every season!
(Zaffre, paperback, £8.99)

Thursday, 8 April 2021

CHILDREN'S BOOKS: Fabulous fowls, a storm heroine and life in the Stone Age

Discover the amazing pecking order of the wonderful world of chickens, join a girl on a thrilling rescue at sea, discover everyday magic in a strange place called Little Snoddington, and step back in time nearly 20,000 years with a springtime selection of new children’s books

Age 4 plus
Chickenology: The Ultimate Encyclopedia
Barbara Sandri, Francesco Giubbilini and Camilla Pintonato

TO some they are simply creatures that peck around farmyards and lay the eggs we love… but chickens have their own pecking order and come in all sizes, colours, personalities and temperaments! Welcome to the wonderful world of chickens in a brilliant and innovative book that explores the surprising diversity and charisma of one of the most familiar and universally loved birds that grace our planet.

Authors Barbara Sandri, Francesco Giubbilini and Italian illustrator Camilla Pintonato work their chickenology magic on this fascinating and informative tour of all things chickens and eggs (not necessarily in that order!) Discover the incredible variety of chickens with different origins, breeds, and feather patterns, delve into chicken anatomy and evolution, and even learn the basics of chicken care as youngsters and grown-ups meet a host of feathered friends.

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Did you know some chickens are so small they can perch in the palm of your hand, and others have feathers that look like a beard? Chickens can learn to count up to four and have excellent hearing… many even like to listen to music! Chicken feathers, meanwhile, can feature many colours, shades, and geometric patterns. Plus, chickens don’t need a raincoat… their feathers protect them from the cold and water, even in the middle of winter.

And chickens make many different noises. The henhouse is never a peaceful, quiet place: hens, roosters, and chicks can make lots of different noises, depending on their sex, age, situation, and what they want to communicate.

Meet the Sebright, one of the most elegant, most suave chickens, thanks to its fine white feathers edged in black. This small breed of chicken is named after the nobleman Sir John Saunders Sebright who managed to create the crossbreed in his splendid Besford Court in Worcestershire. The Silkie is a very old breed, characterised by black skin and the silky feathers that give it its name… they look more like cat’s fur than chicken feathers. And Silkies have good protective instincts and trust humans, so much so that today they are often chosen for hen-therapy projects.

And Ayam Cemani chickens are black from tip to toe, as indicated by their name in Javanese. Their eyes, comb, ear, wattles, and even their internal organs and skeleton are black. In popular Indonesian tradition, they symbolise healing and are even said to possess supernatural powers. With a playful text and enchanting illustrations by rising star Pintonato, this quirky, visual and comprehensive encyclopedia presents chickens in their perfectly feathered glory!
(Princeton Architectural Press, hardback, £14.99)

Age 8 plus
Featherlight
Peter Bunzl 

CAN one young lighthouse girl help to save the crew of a boat one stormy night at sea? Author, filmmaker and animator Peter Bunzl, whose award-winning Cogheart series won an army of young fans, makes a spectacular debut for much-loved publishers Barrington Stoke with a thrilling and truly magical adventure story inspired by the stories of real-life heroines.

Bunzl looks to the real Grace Darling of the Farne Islands off the coast of Northumberland, and a girl called Ida Lewis of Rhode Island in America, who both risked their lives in daring sea rescues in the 19th century, as his springboard for this terrific tale of magic and myth.

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Deryn’s father is the lighthouse keeper on Featherstone Island, keeping the lantern lit to protect passing boats from the treacherous rocky coastline. But when an emergency arises and her parents have to travel to the mainland for help, Deryn is left alone to keep watch over the lighthouse, and she finds herself in a terrible situation when the lamp runs out of oil during a wild storm. With a fishing boat in peril on the sea, and time running out to rescue those on board, Deryn seeks help from an unusual source. Will she be able to keep the lantern lit through the dark, dangerous night?

Illustrated by Anneli Bray, and with cover artwork by Evan Hollingdale, Featherlight is a moving, mystical story which blends fantasy, folklore and history and is set against the compelling backdrop of churning seas, amazing nature and breathtaking heroism. A stunning and atmospheric tale from a master storyteller…
(Barrington Stoke, paperback, £6.99)

Age 7 plus
Everyday Magic: The Adventures of Alfie Blackstack
Jess Kidd

WELCOME to a strange place called Little Snoddington where nothing is normal, life is full of mischief… and every day is magic! Award-winning author Jess Kidd has turned her talented hand to children’s books and come up with a debut middle-grade adventure that will have youngsters gasping, groaning and giggling with delight as an orphan boy and his friend takes on the might of a cunning coven of witches.

Nine-year-old Alfie Blackstack’s parents have met a very unfortunate end… his zookeeper mother was eaten by a lion and his ornithologist father disappeared in a leaky boat. Now he’s living in the super creepy Switherbroom Hall with his mad-haired Aunt Gertie and warty Aunt Zita. But the thing is, Alfie’s aunts aren’t just weird… they’re witches!

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When the circus arrives in town, lonely Alfie makes his first ever friend, the fearless Calypso Fagan. But when Calypso’s little sister Nova disappears, they must face the terrifying Head Witch in a race to find Nova and stop the next Witch War. Expect circus tricks and action galore, mystery, suspense, and a madcap cast of characters – including familiars, imps, ghosts, and good and bad witches – as Kidd delivers a joyful escapade full of word play, friendship, and a totally bewitching brand of black magic.  Ideal for fans of The Witches, Nevermoor and Lemony Snicket…
(Canongate, paperback, £6.99)

Age 7 plus
24 Hours in the Stone Age
Lan Cook and Laurent Kling

HAVE you ever wondered what it would be like to live in the long-ago Stone Age? Well now you can step back in time nearly 20,000 years in the pages of a brilliant new book from Usborne, one of the world’s leading independent children’s book publishers with a remarkable track record of innovative, creative and informative titles.

24 Hours in the Stone Age lets youngsters learn fascinating facts about daily life for cave-dwellers through Lan Cook’s easy-to-read adventure-packed story and Laurent Kling’s colourful, child-friendly, comic book-style illustrations.

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With Auri, a young cave-dweller, as our guide, youngsters find out how to start a fire, build a shelter and make stone tools, how cave art was created, discover edible plants like rosehips, wild garlic, nettle leaves and elderberries which could be found in the wild, and come face-to-face with some of the dangers of everyday Stone Age life… not least cave wolves, hyenas and woolly mammoths!

Written in consultation with leading experimental archaeologist, Dr James Dilley who specialises in prehistoric technologies, 24 Hours in the Stone Age is the first in a new series and is the perfect fun and informative book to spark children’s curiosity. With a helpful glossary and index at the back, and colour, adventure and discovery on every page, there could be no better introduction to life in the Stone Age.
(Usborne, hardback, £7.99)

Age 7 plus
Leo’s Map of Monsters: The Spitfang Lizard
Kris Humphrey and Pete Williamson

IF there are any reluctant readers out there looking for an easy-read, thrilling adventure, then book in to Leo’s epic fantasy world! Imaginative author Kris Humphrey and top flight illustrator Pete Williamson have teamed up for this exciting series starring a hero boy on a mission to guard his village from monsters and it’s proving to be a monstrously good read.

It’s Leo’s job as the Guardian’s apprentice to protect the village from the monsters that lurk in the surrounding forest. Whenever a monster gets too close to the village walls Leo must venture out, using his slingshot of magical stones and magical map to first find the monster and then do battle with it.

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In his new adventure, Leo has to track down a deadly Spitfang Lizard before it reaches the village. He is given one piece of advice… first they spit, and then they bite. And if a Spitfang’s throat swells up… run! There’s action, fun and intrigue on every page of this brilliant story as Humphrey and Williamson unleash their imaginative skills on a series that retains a warm heart throughout and offers some fascinating facts in the back of the book. Spiffing Spitfang reading!
(Oxford University Press, paperback, £6.99)

Age 8 plus
Buck ’n’ Bronco Hit the Road
Guy Bass and Steve May

MEET two theme park mascots on the hunt for a new home in a hilarious Wild West romp from comic genius and award-winning author Guy Bass. Youngsters are guaranteed a laugh-a-minute tale as Bass and his illustrator team-mate Steve May combine their talents for a terrific adventure packed with the author’s trademark puntastic one-liners and May’s glorious gallery of madcap characters.

Buck ’n’ Bronco are mascots at the Happy Ranch theme park and it’s their mission to ‘Bring the Happy’ to your day! But when Happy Ranch is demolished to make way for a futuristic new park, Buck ’n’ Bronco find themselves without a home and without a job. While Buck thinks it’s time for them to spread their wings and take the show on the road, Bronco wants nothing more than for their life to be exactly as it was. They head out on the road, determined to prove they have still got what it takes but are they doomed to be yesterday’s mascots?

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Buck ’n’ Bronco Hit the Road – a high-energy, gigglesome adventure packed with as many twists, turns and loop the loops as the Rockin’ Roller –  comes from innovative publisher Barrington Stoke and is produced in a super readable format especially suitable for struggling, reluctant or dyslexic readers. With heartwarming themes of friendship, mutual support, shared adversity and the importance of being prepared to embrace change, Bass and May’s inspirational and anarchic comedy hits the spot perfectly for readers young… and not-so-young!
(Barrington Stoke, paperback, £6.99)

Age 7 plus
The Best Ever Book of Funny Poems
Chosen by Brian Moses 

‘A GOOD laugh heals a lot of hurts,’ wrote American author Madeleine L’Engle, so forget the cares of the pandemic and tickle your funny bone with this brilliant collection of poems. The Best Ever Book of Funny Poems is a brilliantly amusing anthology of the most giggle-worthy children’s poems from one of the nation’s most celebrated children's poets, Brian Moses, who spends much of his time visiting schools, running workshop sessions and performing his poetry.

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Explore chucklesome poems about pets, funny creatures, school, family, fantasy and fairy-tales, dinosaurs and dragons, space… and some wonderful poems that are just plain SILLY! With poets such as Brian Bilston, Sue Hardy-Dawson, Pie Corbett and Paul Cookson next to Liz Brownlee, Mike Jubb, James Carter and Rachel Rooney, this is the ultimate hysterical collection of rib-tickling poems that are perfect as a gift and guaranteed to make you laugh out loud.
(Macmillan Children’s Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus
The Boys
Lauren Ace and Jenny Løvlie

THE journey of four boys from childhood to adulthood becomes a tale of friendship, sharing and self-discovery in a beautiful picture book from the creators of the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize winner, The Girls. Lauren Ace, who has worked in publishing for ten years, and illustrator Jenny Løvlie combine their talents once again for a resonant story about the wonderful adventure of life and the close and lasting bonds we form along the way.

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Four boys meet by the sea... Rey, Nattie, Bobby and Tam splash together in the water and play on the shore. They all have different ways of expressing themselves and as they grow up, they hold on to their friendship.  As we follow their journeys from boys to men, they take different paths. But even if their friendships are occasionally put to the test, they listen to and support each other no matter what.

With its diverse cast of characters, Løvlie’s exquisitely detailed illustrations to enjoy, and Ace’s warm and emotional story, this is the ideal companion book to the prize-winning The Girls and the perfect gift to inspire both children and adults.
(Caterpillar Books, hardback, £11.99)

Age 2 plus
Howard the Average Gecko
Wendy Meddour and Carmen Saldaña

WHO needs to be the best when you’re loved whoever you are? Award-winning author Wendy Meddour and illustrator Carmen Saldaña use a cute and colourful gecko as the star of a clever and eye-catching picture book which aims to make youngsters think as well as smile.

Howard thinks he’s the most exceptional creature in the rainforest… that’s because no other creature is as exceptionally camouflaged as him! But when he learns that the rainforest is full of other camouflaged creatures, he begins to wonder… ‘Who will like me if I’m just… an average gecko?’ Thankfully, Howard meets Dolores (another average gecko) and he discovers that you don’t have to be exceptional to be loved… and those that love you will never think you’re average at all.

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Saldaña, who loves animals and is inspired by everything in nature, puts vibrancy, colour and character into Meddour’s heartwarming tale. With plenty of rich detail to spot on every page and an entertaining introduction to other camouflaged creatures, this captivating story uses humour to boost children’s self-confidence and aid their well-being.
(Oxford University Press, paperback, £6.99)

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

London’s No.1 Dog-Walking Agency

Kate MacDougall 

BORED with her back-office job at Sotheby’s auction house in London in 2006, Kate MacDougall decided that working with man’s best friend could be her ticket to a new career. But while she knew that a dog-walking business wouldn’t be a stroll in the park, she hadn’t reckoned on her trickiest customers being the dogs’ owners!

Welcome to the enchanting memoir of a young woman who launched her own business as a dog walker for London’s busy, well-heeled dog lovers in the days before it had rolled over from the United States and become an integral part of fashionable city life.

London’s No.1 Dog-Walking Agency – a delightful mix of canine capers and human psychology – is a warm and affectionate letter to London and dogs, and an astute and entertaining observation of the triumphs and disasters of love, life and growing up.

In 2006, twenty-something Kate MacDougall (pictured below) knew her heart wasn’t really in her job at Sotheby’s. Tall, ‘congenitally uncoordinated’ and butterfingered, she was known as ‘clumsy’ Kate and when she accidentally smashed two (admittedly ugly and thankfully not priceless) porcelain pigeons, she knew it was time for a career change.

All around her, friends were finding their dream jobs and whooshing up career ladders so when she walked out of Sotheby’s and into the then-nascent gig economy, Kate knew she was taking a risk. Her mother had seen the office job as just a ‘holding pen’ until a husband and children came along but Kate wanted more from life than that.

And it was a chance meeting with a man walking a rather cute cocker spaniel for a famous actress that sparked the idea of launching a dog-walking business… despite the reservations of her live-in boyfriend (and future husband) Finlay  – lovely, kind and funny but doesn’t like dogs… at all. And so London’s No.1 Dog-Walking Agency was born and for the next nine years Kate embarked upon an entirely new and very much improvised career walking some of the city’s many pampered and over-protected pooches. There was Frank, the (female) Jack Russell whose owner had never been able to tire her out, not even after a ten-mile hike up the Cairngorms, and Winston, the Labrador more like ‘a hyperactive toddler,’ who wasn’t allowed to get wet and muddy, even after his owners split up and then enlisted Kate in their custody battle.

Click HERE for Lancashire Post review

Then there was Stanley, a cross between a lurcher, wolfhound and something found in the Arctic whose only interest was food, and the chic trio of Islington couples whose immaculately arranged dog-walking schedule was thrown out when one of them fell for the dog walker Kate had employed.

And amongst all this, there was Kate herself… fending off her mother’s longing for wedding bells, and trying to work out exactly what she wanted from life and how she would get there.

MacDougall – who is now a freelance writer, specialising in dogs, the countryside and lifestyle, and lives in Oxfordshire with her husband, three children and two dogs – lifts the lid on the

The Drowned City

K.J. Maitland

A YEAR on from the treasonous Gunpowder Plot, one of the perpetrators has still evaded justice and revenge is in the air. There’s word that this last Catholic conspirator might be in Bristol but a new kind of threat has overtaken the city… a deadly tidal wave has swept down the channel, destroying homes and killing thousands. Can anyone be found in the chaos of such terrible devastation?

When Karen Maitland’s extensive research stumbled across a little-known, disastrous real-life event in the south-western corner of England during the last days of January 1606, it was the spark that ignited the flame of an exciting new thriller series from one of our best known and loved historical novelists.

Much admired for a string of spooky medieval mysteries, but writing here as K.J. Maitland (pictured below), this seasoned author has fast-forwarded in fine style to the early Jacobean period in the company of intriguing spy Daniel Pursglove, a man with a past… and almost no future. Steeped in the power play of a volatile period of English history – when the paranoid King James I was only three years into his reign and still living in the shadow of the Gunpowder Plot – The Drowned City brings us both a thrilling mystery and a fascinating exploration of the dark heart of Jacobean court politics.

A year to the day that men were executed for conspiring to blow up Parliament, a towering wave devastates the Bristol Channel. In a country where superstition is rife, some proclaim it is God’s vengeance, a thing of ‘strange and terrible beauty that was not of this world’… but there are others who see it as a chance to take advantage.

A month later in London, a prisoner known only as ‘Gallows’ because of the scarlet ‘firemark’ around his throat, lies in the foul straw of notorious Newgate prison waiting to die. But an unexpected visitor, Charles FitzAlan, a close adviser to King James I, has a job in mind for this skilled man and it will free him from rotting in the ‘hell pit’ of Newgate… if he succeeds.

The prisoner – who hasn’t a single living relative, or a friend who would dare to associate with him – is given the undercover name Daniel Pursglove and dispatched to Bristol, a hotbed of Catholic spies and now the perfect place for Spero Pettingar, the lone conspirator who evaded arrest after the Gunpowder Plot, to gather allies in the drowned city’s ensuing chaos.

Click HERE for Lancashire Post review

King James I – ever fearful of plots against his life – has hardened his stance against England’s restless, scheming Catholic recusants and it’s Daniel’s make-or-break job to track down Pettingar and investigate whether the ‘author’ of this catastrophic flood was nature or the Devil. But Daniel