Category Archives: Book review

Book Review – Mystery & Mayhem (Crime Club)

Title: Mystery & Mayhem (Crime Club)

Written by: Caroline Lawrence, Clementine Beauvais, Elen Caldecott, Frances Hardinge, Harriet Whitehorn, Helen Moss, Julia Golding, Kate Pankhurst, Katherine Woodfine, Robin Stevens, Sally Nicholls and Susie Day.

Published by: Egmont

Mystery & Mayhem

This innovative crime compilation is aimed at the 8-12 age range and jam-packed with big name authors. The book contains twelve deliciously, intriguing short stories by twelve renowned children’s book writers all under one cover. There are four sections each containing three mysteries to solve: impossible mysteries, canine capers, poison plots and closed-system crimes.

The featured Mystery & Mayhem (Crime Club) authors in order of appearance are: Susie Day, Elen Caldecott, Clementine Beauvais, Caroline Lawrence, Julia Golding, Kate Pankhurst, Frances Hardinge, Helen Moss, Harriet Whitehorn, Sally Nicholls, Katherine Woodfine (who has also written the introduction) and Robin Stevens.

The dastardly crime stories include murder, mayhem, poison and plot, dognapping, safe-breaking, sabotage and biscuits. Only the intrepid young detectives – and the reader – can crack the cases to save the day.

Each story is succinctly written so the reader can experience the satisfaction of putting together clues, unravelling evidence and solving cleverly designed puzzles to crack each case and discover exactly what happened and why. They are all a great read and I could not possibly pick a favourite, but I particularly enjoyed how Susie Day’s character Emily is the one to solve the crime despite the effort of the adults and similarly with Jamie Kahn in Robin Steven’s story. Both these main characters outwit the adults.

I think children will enjoy these excellent crime stories and it will encourage them to seek out more books by their favourite authors. It is good to see the crime genre hit the mid-grade shelves.

This book review was previously published on the online Armadillo Children’s Book Review Magazine.

Book of the Year 2018

George Kirk @GeorgeKirkTales set me the very difficult task to choosing my favourite book of 2018 for a video for the Bacup and Rawtenstall Grammar School’s learning Resource Centre @BRGS_LRC

The book I choose was The Girl in the Broken Mirror by Savita Kalhan and published by Troika Books. It is about a 15-year-old British-Asian girl called Jay. After her dad dies Jay and her mum have to move in with relatives. They are very traditional and Jay losses a lot of her freedom. But Jay’s life gets worse when she is sexually assaulted.

girl in the broken mirror jpeg

I like this book because of the author’s writing. Savita Kalhan makes you really feel for the main character, Jay. I cared so much I couldn’t put the book down. I had to stay with Jay until the very bitter end.

You can see George Kirk’s resource and watch me talking about The Girl in the Broken Mirror in this video. You have to be patient though as my bit is at the very end.

The other people who take part in the video resource and where to find them are:

Emma Perry @_EmmaPerry who recommends Rosie Loves Jack by Mel Darbon @DarbonMel

Karen Bultiauw @karenbultiauw who recommends Magic Mirror by Claire Fayers @ClaireFayers and The Truth About Lies by Tracey Darnton @TraceyDarnton

Bea @Busy_BeaP who recommends To Kill A Kingdom by Alexandra Christo @alliechristo

K M Lockwood @lockwoodwriter who recommends Bone Talk by Candy Gourlay @candygourlay

Book Review – Christmas Special

Those of you who are interested in buying a Christmassy book for a child or to treasure for yourself. I have put together a few that might make that ideal stocking filler or pre-Christmas gift.

christmas stockings

Title: How Winston Delivered Christmas

Written and Illustrated by: Alex T. Smith

Published by: Macmillan Children’s Books

How Winston delivered Christmas

A mouse called Winston takes Oliver’s letter to Santa that he found in the snow to the North Pole. It’s not an easy journey, but Winston finally makes it – and there’s an unexpected reward at the end of the story for him, too.

How Winston Delivered Christmas is written in 24 and a half chapters designed to be read, one a day, from the 1st to 24th December, with the half chapter at the end to be read on Christmas Day.

Like an advent calendar counting down to Christmas, each day features festive things to make and do – you can write a letter to Father Christmas and make mince pies, make party invitations, build a snow globe and a pom-pom robin and there is even a creating a guide to random acts of kindness. The perfect gift for leading up to Christmas.


Title: Father Christmas and Me

Written by: Matt Haig

Illustrated by: Chris Mould

Published by: Canongate Books

Father Christmas and Me

Let the battle for Christmas begin . . .

Amelia lives in the magical town of Elfhelm, newly adopted by Father Christmas and Mary Christmas. When the very jealous Easter Bunny launches an attack to ruin Christmas, it’s up to Amelia, her family and the elves to fight off the forces of evil.

But can they keep Christmas alive?

Other Christmassy books in the series are:


Title: A Very Corgi Christmas

Written by: Sam Hay

Illustrated by: Loretta Schauer

Published by: Simon & Schuster Children’s UK

A Very Corgi Christmas

Pip turns up and whisks Belle the Royal Corgi off on a wonderfully romantic whirl around the sights of London. All too soon it’s time to head home, but when the couple finally work out how to get back into the palace . . . Pip disappears.

Will Belle ever see him again? Perhaps . . . with the help of a special royal couple, who might just bring Belle a wonderful Christmas surprise.

For dog-lovers everywhere, this Lady and the Tramp-esque romp around London at Christmas is full of heart . . . and waggy tails!


Title: The Last of the Spirits

Written by: Chris Priestly

Published by: Bloomsbury

Last of the Spirits

Sam and Lizzie are freezing and hungry on the streets of Victorian London. When Sam asks a wealthy man for some coins, he is rudely turned away. Months of struggle suddenly find their focus, and Sam resolves to kill the man. Huddling in a graveyard for warmth, Sam and Lizzie are horrified to see the earth around one of the tombs begin to shift, shortly followed by the wraith-like figure of a ghostly man. He warns Sam about the future which awaits such a bitter heart, and so begins Sam’s journey led by terrifying spirits through the past, present and future, after which Sam must decide whether to take the man, Scrooge’s, life or not.

A perfectly layered, tense and supremely satisfying twist on one of Dickens’ most popular books, cleverly reinvented.


Title: Once Upon A Wild Wood

Written and Illustrated by: Chris Riddell

Published by: Macmillan Children’s Books

Once Upon a Wild Wood

Little Green Raincape is on her way to Rapunzel’s party, deep in the wild woods. The way is long and dark, but Green is a smart girl. Smart enough to turn down apples offered by kindly old ladies, smart enough to turn down travel advice from helpful wolves, and above all, smart enough to solve a wealth of classic fairy tale problems – not least mend a lovelorn beast’s broken heart.

Once Upon a Wild Wood is a richly imagined story jam-packed full of familiar fairy tale characters as you’ve never seen them before. Including Red Riding Hood, Thumbelina, Rapunzel, Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, the three bears, the seven dwarfs and many more!

A visual feast on every page, illustrated with warmth and humour and full of witty details to discover – this is Chris Riddell at his picture book best!


Title: The Snowman: Inspired by the original story by Raymond Briggs

Written by: Michael Morpurgo

Illustrated by: Robin Shaw

Published by: Puffin

The Snowman by Michael Morpurgo

Inspired by the timeless tale, Michael Morpurgo and Robin Shaw have created the perfect Christmas story for the whole family. One December morning, James is thrilled to wake up to see snow falling.

He spends the whole day making his perfect snowman; he has coal eyes, an old green hat and scarf and a tangerine nose… just like the snowman from his favourite story. That night, something magical happens- the Snowman comes to life! He and James take to the skies on a magical adventure where they meet someone very special.


Title: The Christmasaurus Audiobook

Written by: Tom Fletcher

Illustrated by: Shane Devries

Read by: Paul Shelley

Published by: Puffin

Christmasaurus

First released in 2016 this audiobook has been repackaged again this year just in time for Christmas.

The Christmasaurus is a story about a boy named William Trundle and a dinosaur, called as the title would suggest the Christmasaurus. They meet one Christmas Eve and have an extraordinary adventure where they discover their heart’s true desire, and learn the impossible might just be possible. The theme is friendship and family wrapped up in a glittery parcel of sleigh bells, Santa, singing elves, flying reindeer, music and magic.

The disc includes 14 original songs all written and performed by Tom Fletcher, accompanied by a full orchestra with performances by Giovanna Fletcher, Carrie Hope-Fletcher and Santa Claus! And listen out for newcomer Max Reader singing ‘Someone More Than Me’ and Harry Judd on drums in ‘Afraid of Heights’.


Title: Going Home

Written by: Cliff McNish

Illustrated by: Trish Phillips

Published by: Doomspell Books

going home

A dog may not be for Christmas but this book certainly is. Children who love animals will adore it.

Going Home is about the Happy Paws Dog’s Home where some of the dogs have been labelled ‘no-hopers’ on the ground of their looks, phobias and general behaviour. When the Dog’s Home reviews its policy of never putting a dog down the story takes you on a roller-coaster of emotions. One minute there are tears of laughter. The next you are on the edge of your seat, turning the page, hoping the dogs will find a home of their very own before it is too late.

It will give any child a fairly realistic view of the psyche of a dog and how their needs are more than just a roof over their heads. Not only is the story a real feel-good, tear-jerker but the illustrations by Trish Phillips are adorable and will melt even the hardest of hearts.

Book Review – Veronica Twitch the Fabulous Witch

Title: Veronica Twitch the Fabulous Witch

Written and Illustrated by: Erica-Jane Waters

Published by: Wacky Bee Books

veronica twitch

Veronica is Editor-in-Chief at her very own Twitch magazine that is full of exclusive interviews with the latest bands and film stars, famous writers and artists and fashion designers. Veronica also loves stationery so ranks very highly in my estimation.

Along with her friends Figgy and Pru she is always on the look out for a good story. So they are off to Raven Heights to interview the most awesome and exciting girl band in the whole of Witch City, Double-Bubble. But trouble strikes! Double-Bubble are kidnapped. Veronica suspects Belinda Bullfrog from her rival magazine Nosy Toad.

Follow Veronica into a quest of magical mystery mayhem as she attempts to uncover what has happened to the girl band and find out if  Belinda Bullfrog could really have turned them into crows and locked them away forever.

This story is a fast fun-packed adventure and I love the black and white illustrations with a hint of witchy purple. Ideal for Halloween and for girls that love mystery books. This book will take you on an emotional roller coaster cackling with delight and booing with despair at the ghastly Belinda Bullfrog.

To find out more about Erica-Jane Waters, her writing and her illustrations take a look at her website: www.ericajanewaters.com and follow her on Twitter: @Ericajanewaters 

Book Review – An Atlas of Imaginary Places

Title: An Atlas of Imaginary Places

Written by: Mia Cassany

Illustrated by: Ana de Lima

Published by: Prestel Publishing

An Atlas of Imaginary Places

This unusual and beautifully illustrated atlas transports the reader into a fantastical world that nestles between reality and dreams. Children will discover mountains that grow upside-down, paper boats that transform into donut and cake islands, a city that floats on a whale, animals that change in appearance every time they sneeze and volcanoes that spit out bubblegum lava.

Author, Mia Cassany, has created the ideal picture book for older 5+ readers that will spark every child’s imagination. The pastel-coloured illustrations by Ana de Lima are jam-packed with interesting and thought-provoking images. The reader needs time to explore and think about each spread as they sail the wonderous journey through the Atlas of Imaginary Places.

I believe this book will make a great teaching resource, as each spread could be used as a story starter, as well as inspiring art creations and displays in the classroom. The maps on the end papers are ingenious. They encourage the children to develop not only their imagination but their observation skills. A great book for the class book corner and the ideal book for sharing with your child before bedtime.

This book review was previously published on the online Armadillo Children’s Book Review Magazine.

Book Review – Am I Yours?

Title: Am I Yours?

Written and illustrated by: Alex Latimer

Published by: Oxford University Press

am i yours

This lovely ‘identity’ story that will bring a tear to your eye. It is about a dinosaur egg, which is pushed out of its nest by an icy wind. A host of different dinosaurs try to discover who the egg belongs to, before night fall. I like the way Alex Latimer ranks up the tension by telling the reader the egg will not survive another cold night.

This book is is cleverly written in rhyme with a catchy repeated phrase:

‘What do you look like inside the shell?

I can’t see so I can’t tell.’

It encompasses the themes of kindness, community and working as a team.

Am I Yours? by Alex Latimer would be a great book to introduce young children to the species of different dinosaurs and their characteristics. The illustrations are bold and eye-catching with charming, friendly dinosaur faces that every child will fall in love with. The end papers are full of even more dinosaurs for children to enthusiastically spot. It could be used in the classroom as a fun way to discuss similarities and differences in body parts.

This book review was previously published on the online Armadillo Children’s Book Review Magazine.

Book Review – Dougal Daley I’m Phenomenal

Title: Dougal Daley I’m Phenomenal

Written by: Jackie Marchant

Illustrated by: Loretta Schauer

Published by: Wacky Bee Books

The Dougal Daley books are funny mid-grade stories about a young boy who always seems to land himself in trouble with his antics. The third in the series is about Dougal’s ingenious enterprise to make money by setting up a website to help people. Obviously he has to keep this a secret from his parents.

Dougal Daley3

The books are fun, exciting and visually engaging. I believe they will encourage even the most reluctant reader to read. I particularly like the inclusion of multi media in the book, with pages from Dougal’s website, email messages, school letters and text messages all included as part of the story. This along with Loretta Schauer’s brilliant character sketches gives the book a really modern up-to-date feel.

I was lucky enough to be invited to Jackie’s book launch where there was wine and cup cakes.

In the March 2018 issue of Writers Forum I interviewed Jackie Marchant about the Dougal Daley series. Jackie told me her inspiring story of how the books were given an incredible face lift by changing the name of the main character and using a new illustrator, after meeting Louise Jordan at the London Book Fair. Louise Jordan runs the publishing company Wacky Bee. She told Louise her story and Louise went away and read the original books. She then contacted Jackie to say she loved them and would like to publish all three titles.

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You can find out more about this interview in the #197 March 2018 issue of Writers Forum.

You can find out more about Jackie and her books on her website:  www.jackiemarchant.com and follow her on Twitter at: @JMarchantAuthor 

You can find out more about Loretta Schauer and her illustrations on her website: www.lorettaschauer.com and follow her on Twitter at: @Loretta_Schauer