The Peculiar Peggs of Riddling Woods by Samuel J. Halpin


The Peculiar Peggs of Riddling Woods by Samuel J. Halpin is a thrilling read. It’s a perfect autumnal or winter scary story. If you’re looking for a halloween read, or something to make your children hug you tight as you read together, then this is the book. It will appeal to fans of Coraline by Neil Gaiman. So, you have been warned. This book may scare you!

Of course if you enjoy being frightened whilst being safe and cosy under your duvet then you’ll probably enjoy reading The Peculiar Peggs of Riddling Woods. Poppy is spending two weeks of the summer holiday staying with her Gran in a place called Suds. When she arrives mysterious things keep happening and she is greeted by whispered stories about children turning grey and disappearing. She meets an odd boy called Erasmus (who is a fantastic character and my favourite in the book), an eccentric and clever boy, and together they decided to uncover what is happing to the disappearing children…

Samuel J. Halpin has created a great detective story flavoured with fairy tales, drizzled with a syrup of fear and sprinkled with intelligence and heart.

The Malamander by Thomas Taylor


First and foremost The Malamander (great title) by Thomas Taylor is a really enjoyable read. I was steeped in the briny world of Eerie on Sea from the very first page.

In Eerie on Sea, mythical beasts walk the misty shores and legends of strange disappearances are part of the furniture. Nobody is what they seem.

The author Thomas Taylor gained notoriety for his covers, the first covers, of the Harry Potter books, but (rather annoyingly) it transpires that he writes as well as he draws. In this, his debut middle grade novel, he introduces us to a wonderful pair of detectives - Herbie and Violet – who have a riddle to solve, and an evocative location. Eerie on Sea is a seaside town and the unsettling mystery of the Malamander takes place in the wintry off-season when there are no tourists to fill the place.

The Malamander is fantastical storytelling at its best, with a Dickensian cast and a terrifying beast from the deep. This enthralling oceanic adventure had me hoping our heroic lost and foundlings will have more mysteries to solve in books to come.

I wanted to read on and on.

Charlie Changes into a Chicken by Sam Copeman


Sam Copeland’s debut, Charlie Changes into a Chicken is brilliant, laugh-out-loud funny and genuinely moving. I would recommend this book to readers of age 6 and upwards. I’m definitely older than 6 and I hooted with laughter when I read it.

However, Charlie Changes into a Chicken is more than a joyous romp of a read. Through its relentlessly hilarious narrative it ingeniously communicates an important message for children who struggle with anxiety or are confronted by difficulties in their life. In the story, the bonkers transformations into crazy creatures occur when Charlie panics. He has to try and find a way to cope with these moments. In this, the first book in a series, it is his older brother’s ill health that is making Charlie anxious.


A great debut is one that you feel must have always existed, and this is one of those books. Every school library needs to have multiple copies and may I recommend it to every single parent out there.

Since I read this book, Sam Copeland has managed to produce a follow up story about Charlie, called Charlie Changes into a T-Rex. It’s bound to be a belter and I hear there’s a third one in the works and a film deal too. Grab a copy as soon as you can.

Bearmouth by Liz Hyder


The unique, dark, gem that is Bearmouth is a debut written by Liz Hyder and published in September 2019 by Pushkin Press. I would recommend it for readers aged 12 and upwards. The protagonist, Newt, is a child, but I’m not sure I would call this a children’s book. There is violence and death aplenty in the mine.

This book springs from the intelligent and generous imagination of Liz Hyder, a debut author who is no stranger to those who work in the book world. Liz is a Catherine-wheel of a human being, an effervescent delight to work or play with. Never in my wildest dreams could I imagine she’d write a black diamond like Bearmouth. I’m a little in awe.


Bearmouth is a book about questioning authority and social structures, both religious and political. At times it reminded me of Emile Zola’s Germinal. It is a book about bravery, hope and the power of brains over brawn.

The story of Bearmouth is told by a child called Newt, in a powerful first person narrative. It is diary-like and the words are spelled phonetically as he learns his letters. You’re with Newt, cheek by jowl, every step of the way. His relationships with Thomas, Tobe and Devlin provide the pillars for his sanity in this hostile place. Newt’s methods of coping with the fear and danger of living and working in the mine show him to be smart, resourceful, strong and a thoroughly relatable protagonist. The world of the mine is evoked as solidly as the rock it’s hewn from, through Newt’s account of his day-to-day experience of working deep underground.

I read several books at once, and I happened to be reading Robert Macfarlane’s Underland at the same time. The two books are perfect siblings, Bearmouth a fictional sister to Macfarlane’s exploration of underground realms. The claustrophobic world below the rock is conjured equally well by both authors.

Every syllable of Bearmouth has been considered. There is not one word too many. There are twists and shocks waiting for you in the mine. This book is an accomplished, intelligent, gripping, and unforgettable debut. It is both tender, brutal, and at times truly terrifying. You will not read another book like Bearmouth and once you start reading you will not be able to put it down. I thoroughly recommend you read it. It’s a story you’ll never forget.

Fire, Bed & Bone by Henrietta Branford

On the advent of the twentieth anniversary of the Branford Boase award, Walker Books have brought out a new edition of Fire Bed & Bone by Henrietta Branford, for which she won the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize. I was very excited to get my hands on a copy of this book and read it.

I won the Branford Boase award in 2017, but all I knew about Henrietta Branford was that she was a talented writer who had tragically died early in her career. I had not read any of her books.


Fire, Bed & Bone is unlike any historical children’s book I have read. Set in 1381, it tells the story of the Peasant’s Revolt through the eyes of a loyal dog, whose master Rufus is a peasant supporting the revolt. Compelling reading, this book powerfully evokes a brutal time, staging the conflict between the peasants and the landowners in a vivid and easily imagined way. I was gripped as soon as I opened the book and I didn’t stop reading until the last page. The story is gritty and horribly exciting with truly shocking moments. The dogs are invested with a truth and mysticism which highlights the crass nature of the humans. I can see why Henrietta Branford was heralded as a fresh, exciting and important voice when this book was first published, and despite the passing of twenty years, she remains so.

I heartily recommend this book to teachers engaging with the topic of the peasants revolt or the middle ages. It is a short, dramatic read that children will be immediately invested in, but be aware that the subject is violent and there are scenes that will upset some, so do read ahead.

Anyone out there who loves a good read, enjoys historical fiction, or wants an advanced class is narrative voice should read this book.

When I closed the book I was overcome with the feeling that if Henrietta Branford had had more time to spin stories, the world of children’s fiction would have been richer for it.

The Ravenmaster - My Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London by Christopher Skaife *****


Just before Christmas I was lucky enough to be at a Waterstones event featuring a gaggle of writers, one of which was Christopher Skaife, the Ravenmaster at the Tower of London. I bought several of his books and got them signed, as I thought they’d make good Christmas presents. They did.

On the way home I opened my copy of the book, to see what I might find inside. I didn’t put it down until I got to the end. What a book! Once I had read it, I left if alone for a week and then read it again. I have read aloud more than a couple of passages to Sam, my husband, who has now read it and loved it, and the book has inspired a family visit to the Tower to see the ravens.


The Ravenmaster is a very special book. If you are interested in either birds, history, literature, the military, life in a castle, folklore, mythology, unusual careers, interesting people, then this book will delight you.

Even if you are not remotely interested in any of those things, this books is a biographical, non-fiction work that is quick to read, well written, funny in places and sometimes utterly profound. The relationship between the Ravenmaster and the ravens in the tower is fascinating. The job is fascinating. Christopher Skaife is fascinating. The birds are fascinating.

I cannot think of a single type of person who wouldn’t enjoy this book. Please, pick up a copy and read it. It is the very best kind of book. It gets my full five ***** and is appropriate for readers 12 and up.

Lightning Chase Me Home by Amber Lee Dodd


In Amber Lee Dodd’s new book, a girl called Amelia - with the spirit of an explorer - makes a powerful wish and begins a mythical quest. In Lighting Chase Me Home, Amelia tells us the story of her surprising, touching and magical adventure.

This is the kind of book I loved to read when I was eleven. It reminded me of an Enid Blyton adventure. It’s set on a remote Scottish Island, which is a character in the story itself. The greatest female adventurers  to have ever lived provide courage and inspiration to our hero Amelia who is struggling with the separation of her parents and the repercussions of making a wish on her eleventh birthday.

Amber Lee Dodd has conjured up an emotional and thrilling tale, which is a delight to read, fast paced and hard to put down. Good for the adventurous girls and boys in your family.

The Skylarks’ War by Hilary Mckay


As I write this, Hilary Mckay’s book The Skylarks’ War is the Waterstones book of the month, and I’m not one bit surprised.


I read this over Christmas and can thoroughly recommend it. It is a beautifully written story about young people growing up during World War One, but in particular about Rupert, Peter and Clarry Penrose.

It starts off with hazy summers in Cornwall and the threat of boarding school. We follow the Penroses through their respective educations as they grow into young adults and war is declared.

The book deftly describes social structures, political views and prejudices without them weighing down the narrative. The characters are fully rounded, multifaceted creatures with social restrictions and struggles and passions each their own. The reader is emotionally invested in each and every one of them which is no small feat.

This book is a complex, engrossing, moving and joyous read, that will be enjoyed by readers of all ages. Hilary Mckay is a master of her art, her prose is a delight, and The Skylarks’ War feels like a classic from the very first chapter.

This book has been shortlisted for the Costa award and I would be delighted if it won. There’s something for everyone in this book. Do yourself a favour and grab a copy. It’s pretty special.

The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd

Me, on a sun lounger in Gran Caneria. Yes I am sat in the shade drinking tea. Can’t help being English now can I?

Me, on a sun lounger in Gran Caneria. Yes I am sat in the shade drinking tea. Can’t help being English now can I?

The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd has been recommended to me by so many people, but it was Robin Stevens who made be buy it, because she wrote a sequel called The Guggenheim Mystery which I am eager to read, but of course I can’t read it until I’ve read the original mystery.

This book has been sat on my TBR (To Be Read) pile for over a year, so it went straight into my suitcase when I nipped off for a half-term holiday with the family.

Everything I have been told about this book is true. I consumed it in a gulp. It is brilliantly written and a fabulous mystery. The central characters of brother and sister, Ted and Kat, are complicated, fascinating and relatable. The set out to solve the mysterious disappearance of their cousin Salim, who got on the London Eye, but never got off.

Ted’s autism is handled deftly and sensitively, leading one to assume Siobhan Dowd must have done her research. What I enjoyed about the mystery is that the book is not about Ted’s autism, nor does it turn it into a mysterious superpower, however his way of thinking lends wonderful layers to the writing, as he shares his passion and knowledge of the weather.

I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying this book. It’s refreshingly contemporary as well as challenging for those little grey cells, and the best thing is that Robin Stevens has written the sequel, so I get to read more.

The City of Secret Rivers by Jacob Sager Weinstein

A hilarious fantasy adventure set in modern day London.

A truly imaginative caper, involving a giant pig and the sewer system of London. In The City of Secret Rivers Jacob Sager Weinstein puts his screenwriting experience to good use, every chapter ends with the reader thinking: 'I'll just read one more.'

This is an exciting subterranean London adventure, and the first instalment of a middle-grade trilogy.

Hyacinth Hayward has recently arrived from America and is having difficulty adjusting to her new surroundings, especially being in the sole company of her eccentric mother. Everything feels strange. Very strange. And it gets stranger the day she accidentally unleashes the power of a secret river running through London. To prevent a second Great Fire, Hyacinth needs to retrieve a single, magically charged drop of water from somewhere in the city sewer system. Along the way she encounters an eclectic cast of characters – the shambling, monstrous Saltpetre Men who kidnap her mother, the Toshers who battle for control of magical artefacts and a giant pig with whom she has a tea party. The clock is ticking – will she figure out who to trust?


The Way Past Winter by Kiran Millwood Hargrave


Full disclosure upfront. I love the lady who wrote this book. But, there is nothing that I'm going to say about The Way Past Winter that won't be backed up by a hundred other voices, and reviews. In the last two years, Kiran has become a well loved storyteller whose gift of creating beautiful emotional metaphors have become a trademark of her exquisitely told stories.

The Way Past Winter is another treat from the masterful author who gave us The Girl of Ink and Stars and The Island at the End of Everything. It is a fantastical snowy tale, about a family of three sisters and a brother, Mila, Pipa, Sanna and Oskar, who, having lost their mother to illness, lose their father to grief. Leaving his ring behind, he disappears into the forest and never returns. His disappearance coincides with the arrival of a winter which never melts into spring.


One day a fur-clad stranger arrives at their cottage in the forest with a band of men. In the morning both he, his men and Oskar have gone. The three sisters set out to find their brother and bring him home.

This story has the feel of an old Russian Folk tale, or fable. It is rich with evocative prose as the sisters travel north across frozen landscapes following the trail of their brother.

This, more than any of Kiran's other stories, is a page turner. It's truly gripping and otherworldly. A magical read about family, love and grief. For me the standout part of this books is the relationship between the three sisters, tender, blunt and fierce.

This book is published as a beautiful hardback in October, and I think will end up being a Christmas present in many a child's stocking, and what a wonderful gift it would be to receive. But, if you don't think anyone will get it for you, I recommend you treat yourself.

The Railway Children by E. Nesbit *****


I did not read The Railway Children when I was a child. Nor did I see the film. All that I knew was that there was a scene in the movie where Jenny Agutter waved a red flag at a train to stop it, with some other children.

My new writing project is all about trains, and so I immediately picked up this pretty pink hardback edition of the classic and set about reading it. I don't know what I thought it would be. If I'm honest, probably dull, fusty, written using antiquated language with some Famous Five type children and some trains. I was wrong. So wrong.

This book is about family, and bravery and decency and of all things, socialism. Oh goodness, how I loved it. I loved the children, Bobbie, Phyllis and Peter. They squabble and are ghastly to each other, and love each other desperately a moment later, just as real children do. And the railway is the wonderful device around which the whole book hinges, and is described in delicious detail.

Yes, some of the language is old-fashioned. E. Nesbit has a strange habit of breaking the fourth wall to skip bits she thinks aren't of interest, or that the characters wouldn't like us to know about, which both hurls the reader out of the story, yet makes us feel the characters to be all the more real.

What I wasn't prepared for was how much I grew to care about this fictional family and how much I wept at the end. Of course, you have probably read this book and are nodding, but if like me you haven't, then you are in for a treat.

A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars by Yaba Badoe


Some books are just special. A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars by Yaba Badoe is one of those books.

It is the story of fourteen year old Sante, who is part of Mama Rose's circus, has the skills of an acrobat and an uncanny affinity with animals.

Sante was found by Mama Rose when she was a baby, washed ashore in a chest stuffed with treasures. A survivor from a refugee ship that had sunk.

One day the circus arrives in a place where people recognise Sante, and her dreams of her dead family become cries from beyond their watery grave for revenge.

When I was reading this book, I fell in love with Sante. She is a great protagonist. And in fact I loved all the females in this book and the relationships between them. This book has strong, interesting and complex characters a plenty and they're mostly women.

The story is a powerful one, jam packed with the magic of the circus, the ghostly otherworld of the dead, and the horrors of people-trafficking. It is written artfully, rich with the imagery and magic of African folklore. You will not read another book like it. It is a page turner that had my heart beating a thousand different rhythms. At one point I could hear my heart galloping in my chest as I read, it is that dramatic.

I enjoyed every page of A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars and I will be buying it for every teenage girl I know with a birthday, because it should be read widely. If you haven't come across this book yet, then please seek it out, because, as I said, it is special, and you will thank me.

I can't wait to see what Yaba Badoe writes next. I'll be first in line at the till.



The Lost Magician by Piers Torday


The Lost Magician is the new book from the wonderful author of The Last Wild trilogy, Piers Torday.

Simply by opening a book in a magical library, four children find themselves in a world called Folio where the characters from fairy tales are real and locked in battle with data spewing fact robots. The magician who created the library is missing and war has broken out in his absence. The children, Simon, Patricia, Larry and Evelyn, are themselves escaping their own experiences of London during the Blitz. These must surely be the most perfect ingredients for an epic adventure!

In articles that I have read about the book, Piers has spoken about the relationship between his new story and C.S. Lewis's Narnia series. He was inspired by his love of the Narnia stories to create the world in The Lost Magician, Folio, where it is not Christianity that is the under attack but the imagination. His book is an homage, using the allegorical fantasy trope to reflect on our world today. A battle is taking place in the world of the library between the stories and the facts, all the while the real threat is the 'never reads'. For those who love the Narnia stories, like me, the echoes and clever parallels add a layer of joy and satisfaction to the reading experience. However, if you've never read C. S. Lewis, then it won't make the blind bit of difference to your enjoyment of the book.

Me reading  The Lost Magician  in a field on the edge of a woods. Magic.

Me reading The Lost Magician in a field on the edge of a woods. Magic.

This book is so much more than a reimagining of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. The Lost Magician is a classic tale that explores the power of reading. You'll be on the edge of your seat as four war-weary children enter a magical library, and characters you know like the back of your hand come alive and don armour for the kind of battle you've never imagined before. An original, and imaginative war cry for the importance of reading and the magic of libraries.

I hear that The Lost Magician is the beginning of a series, so I'm excited to read the next adventure in Folio.

The 1000 Year Old Boy by Ross Welford


This story. Oh man, this story. You have to read this story. The 1000 Year Old Boy is unlike any middle grade book I've read before. I don't know how Ross Welford produced this. As an author, I read a lot of books and I think up a lot of stories, but this one, well this is something I could never have written. It is my favourite of Ross Welford's books by far, and I loved Time Travelling with a Hamster.

I can't post my usual selfie with the book, as I was sent the manuscript and given 48 hours to read it, to quote for the cover, so I don't have a copy yet. To be honest, I'm a slow reader and I made my apologies in advance saying that I'd try, but I doubted I could read a whole book in that time.

Well, I was wrong. I read it faster than that.

This book is about a child who is older than any grown up, which means the book is equally as captivating for a child as a grown-up reader. I was enthralled by the story and constantly second guessing how Welford was going to resolve it and always getting it wrong. It's thrilling and fascinating and returns to one of Ross's favourite subjects, time. What would it be like to live forever? This book is historical and current, it's moving and exciting, it's thought-provoking yet funny. The children at the centre of the story are awesome characters, but none more so than the unusual Alfie Monk. I can't really tell you what this story is about without giving away some pretty important plot points and it spans a thousand years and countless cool locations! The research that must have gone into the telling of this story blows my mind.

Of course, you already know what I think of this book because it is written on the back cover. This is what I sent to Ross Welford's publisher: 'The 1000 Year Old Boy is a breathtakingly epic story that you won’t be able to put down. In Alfie, Ross Welford has created an unusual and fascinating boy who you are rooting for right from the first word. An original, surprising, moving and compelling read, I loved it.'

Seeing as I can't post a selfie of me with the book, I'm going to post this picture of me taking my hat off to Ross Welford, because this is an EPIC book. Do yourself a favour and have a read.


I take my hat off to you Mr Welford.

Sky Song by Abi Elphinstone


I read Sky Song by Abi Alphinstone over Christmas, which was the perfect time to enjoy a magical fantasy tale about Snow Queens, Sky Gods and brave children. There is so much to enjoy in this book, the snowy wilderness of Erkenwald, the three distinct tribes that live there, the wild creatures and the old magic. However the thing that makes this story really sing is the triumvirate of Eska, Flint and Blu at the centre of it. They are fantastic characters and the relationships between them are powerful and warm.

Without a doubt my favourite character is Blu. I assume from the description of her that she has Down's syndrome. As I read, I realised that I don't think I have read a fantasy story with a character like her. She is adorable, funny, sensitive to truth and so beautifully described. It was new and wonderfully surprising to read about her, and the contribution she makes to the adventure is meaningful, she's no bit part. Abi Elphinstone nimbly makes the point that being different can be an advantage and it's the eye of the beholder which can be limited.

I also loved Balapan, the eagle. I'm a sucker for a story that features a child who has a special relationship with an animal, and the relationship between Eska and Balapan is a pretty special one. I won't give much away but let's just say, I want one. I'm hoping there will be another Sky Song story because I want to read more about them and Eska's voice.

Sky Song is a unique, compelling and magical adventure that I cannot recommend highly enough to middle grade readers. There are many great qualities this book posses, yes it is a brilliant, heart stopping, tear inducing, soul soaring adventure, but it more than that. It champions a positive relationship with nature - which I am all for - and makes a comment about the negative effects of separatism, in the tribe's responses to each other in the face of the Snow Queens divisive attacks. And, last but certainly not least, it puts Blu into a reader's imagination, which may help people to view difference with more understanding. I am not surprised that Waterstones has made Sky Song their book of the month for January. It's pretty special.

Kick by Mitch Johnson


My son is a football fanatic and a reluctant reader, so I begged for this book and I’m glad I did.

Kick is the story of Budi a twelve-year-old boy who works stitching football boots in a sweatshop in Jakarta. His life is a complicated negotiation of dangerous neighbourhoods, his own personal health issues, a gruelling job and poverty. However, his supportive family, love of football and desire to play for Real Madrid one day, keeps him going. This story champions hope, dogged optimism, and friendship.

Football is a beautiful game that I only know a small amount about, but it makes for a wonderful metaphor in this story, the importance of playing as a team, of practice, of integrity, and as one of the highest paid sports in the world it throws the living conditions of the characters into stark relief. My favourite character was Budi’s grandmother, who tells stories to guide him, but it’s hard to imagine there being a reader who doesn’t like Budi.

Kick is a beautifully woven tale with a frankly adorable protagonist, with a burning passion for football, living in a tough world. I should mention there is quite a bit of violence and suffering in the story. My heart ached on many occasions. This book is a great read to promote empathy and understanding, but best of all it’s just a great book. Skilfully written, and perfectly paced Mitch Johnston has produced a fantastic debut. I couldn’t put it down and I’ll be passing it on to my twelve year old next.

The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson


The Goldfish Boy is a mystery story about a toddler who vanishes from a neighbour's garden. Our detective, Matthew, is a boy who is trapped inside by his OCD.

This is a beautifully written book. The prose is so well constructed you don't notice it as you devour page after page of this compelling story. It is about relationships and the human need to communicate. It's about the ways we deal, or don't deal, with life and loss, death and struggles. It's about family and friendship. There is so much more going on in this book than the plot and it is all handled delicately, never over-powering the story. The plot is gripping and the way our unusual detective goes about trying to solve the mystery fascinating.

I've seen comparisons between this book and Mark Hadden's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, and I can see why, although they are very different. This is a brilliant debut. I have The Light Jar, Lisa Thompson's second book, on my bedside table, which I can't wait to read. I suspect that book will be a tear-jerker because The Goldfish Boy is about tough things and my eyes weren't dry when I came to the end of the story. If you are a fan of quality middle grade fiction, then you should read this book.

You can find out more about the lovely Lisa Thompson here.

Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve *****

Mortal Engines was published in 2001 and I would absolutely bestow the epithet 'classic' up on it. It's bloomin' awesome. Philip Reeve's imagination throws us forward to a time when cities have become moving human ecosystems which hunt and devour each other. The protagonist, Tom, lives in London and he thinks he understands the way things are, but getting to meet his hero and accidentally witnessing an assassination attempt hurls him out of London and turns him into a fugitive. His new perspective on the world raises lots of questions about what he's been told as a citizen of London.

This is a gripping adventure in a beautifully drawn world. Once you open this book you won't want to put it down. The characters are wonderfully vivid and fascinating. The writing is skilled and stunningly visual.

After reading this book I ordered a bunch of Reeve's other books, because I knew I would be happy to read anything he writes. Mortal Engines is the beginning of a series of books, so if you like the world Reeve creates there's more adventures to enjoy.


Brightstorm by Vashti Hardy


Brightstorm is Vashti Hardy's middle-grade debut. It will be published by Scholastic in March 2018. It is the tale of the Brightstorm twins, Arthur and Maude, who find themselves orphaned and their family name smeared when their father doesn't return from his expedition to South Polaris.

This is a terrific adventure that takes place on sky-ships, and is resplendent with sapient creatures, thought wolves, and a vindictive villain.

The story has two protagonists and revolves around the relationship between the twins. They support and care for one another as they strive to clear their father's name, understand who they truly are, and build a new family amongst the explorer community.

Young readers who loved Cogheart by Peter Bunzle and aren't yet ready for Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials will enjoy this story.