THE VALLEY OF LOST SECRETS – Lesley Parr

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RELEASED: 07/01/2021
PUBLISHER: Bloomsbury
GENRE: Children’s Fiction, WW2, Mystery

September 1939. When Jimmy is evacuated to a small village in Wales, it couldn’t be more different from London. Green, quiet and full of strangers, he instantly feels out of place. But then he finds a skull hidden in a tree, and suddenly the valley is more frightening than the war. Who can Jimmy trust? His brother is too little; his best friend has changed. Finding an ally in someone he never expects, they set out together to uncover the secrets that lie with the skull. What they discover will change Jimmy – and the village – forever. A mesmerising mystery about bravery and brotherhood from an outstanding new voice.

A book that I’m really excited for readers to discover and love next year is definitely The Valley of Secrets. I expected it to be good; it has a really interesting blurb and the cover is lovely. However, I didn’t expect it to be this good! If it wasn’t for the fact that I have to adult sometimes, this would’ve been a one-sitting read!

I think the thing that really shines through and makes this such a wonderful book is the characters; they really drive the story and are so believable and interesting. They very much come to life and have so much depth; people aren’t always who you expect them to be and that’s very real. I also loved the setting; I could really imagine being in Wales and, again, the writing really made that possible; there was just enough description to really draw you in and make you feel that you were really in Llanbryn.

A further aspect that really makes this such a good read and perfect for a wider audience is that it’s not too dark despite the time it’s set in and the mystery element. I think it caters for many more readers that way and will allow for more people to enjoy the story of Jimmy and the evacuees from London. It’s certainly a book I would’ve loved when I was a child (that’s not to say I don’t love it now as an adult!) and I think it lends itself perfectly to opening up a gateway into further reading of these genres.

Overall, I’d highly highly recommend The Valley of Lost Secrets for anyone who’s just looking for a very good children’s book! I’d say ages 8+ would be the most suitable target audience, and fans of Lisa Thompson are another group of readers that I’d say would love this book! Lesley Parr is an outstanding new voice in children’s literature and definitely one to look out for!


Thank you to Bloomsbury via NetGalley for the eBook of this title!

THE MOST WONDERFUL GIFT IN THE WORLD – Mark Sperring, Lucy Fleming

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RELEASED: 01/10/2020
PUBLISHER: Little Tiger
GENRE: Picture Book, Children’s, Christmas

On Christmas morning, a magnificent, red-wrapped gift sits underneath the tree. But it isn’t for Esme. And it isn’t for Bear. So they set out to find the rightful owner. Little do they know that it’s the greatest gift in all the world. 

A heartwarming Christmas tale about the magic of friendship.

The Most Wonderful Gift in the World has become one of my favourite Christmas books.

I was immediately drawn to this book from the cover, which is adorable, and the description just sounded like a lovely tale of friendship and Christmas magic. I was not let down in the slightest when I read this book because it lived up to and exceeded all expectations. The illustrations inside are even more lovely and the story was even more heartwarming than I could’ve imagined! If I could find one fault with the book it’s that I’d like it to be printed on matte paper. Other than that, I can’t think of one reason not to love this book!

There are so many picture books about friendship, but this one really stands out as something special as it really shows what friendship is. The story is perfect for Christmas with its setting and meaning, and I for one will be reading it lots over the festive period!


Thank you to Charlie at Little Tiger for my copy!

I LOVE YOU MORE THAN CHRISTMAS – Ellie Hattie, Tim Warnes

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RELEASED: 01/10/2020
PUBLISHER: Little Tiger
GENRE: Children’s, Picture Book, Christmas

Little Bear LOVES Christmas. So do Mummy Bear and Daddy Bear. It’s so magical. It’s so heartwarming. It’s so wonderful! Could there be anything in the world that they all love more?

A festive celebration of the true meaning of Christmas.

I Love You More Than Christmas reminded me very much of a classic children’s picture book with the style of illustrations and volume of text – it’s definitely one to be read aloud and shared with little readers.

This book is a celebration of all things festive with references to so many things that people love at this time of year. Little Bear’s excitement and happiness really does shine throughout.

I think the thing that put me off giving this book a higher rating is that I was just left a bit disappointed; the cover is so beautiful and I expected the illustrations to captivate me a bit more, although they are lovely. That being said, I would still recommend this one as a family Christmas story to share the true meaning of Christmas. It was a really sweet way of reminding us of the importance of family and love.


Thanks to Charlie at Little Tiger for my copy!

CAN’T SEE SANTA – Mandy Archer, Chris Jevons

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RELEASED: 01/10/2020
PUBLISHER: Little Tiger
GENRE: Children’s, Christmas, Picture Book

It’s Christmas Eve and Mouse is looking for Santa everywhere! With over 40 flaps to lift and a surprise ending, this funny, festive book will keep children entertained for hours. It’s the perfect Christmas gift!

My favourite thing about Can’t See Santa is the illustrations; they’re bold and engaging, but full of little details and lovely to look at! In some ways I think it’s a shame that it’s a lift-the-flap book as I can only imagine the damage that little fingers will do to it because of how many flaps there are and some of them are quite tricky to open! I can just imagine this beautiful book getting ruined! That said, they do make for a really fun reading experience as there are so many little things to discover!

The story itself is really sweet, and has a very important message about going to sleep on Christmas Eve! I think this would be a really nice book to read to children at that time as an encouragement for them to sleep even though it’s such an exciting time of year!


Thank you to Charlie at Little Tiger for my copy!

PEAS ON EARTH – Jonny Marx, Lindsey Sagar

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RELEASED: 01/10/2020
PUBLISHER: Little Tiger
GENRE: Children’s, Picture Book, Board Book, Christmas

Five little festive peas cannot wait for Christmas in this yuletide countdown with board pieces and a dazzling finale!

There’s nothing better than a fun festive children’s book, and Peas on Earth is just that! Using rhyme, bold illustrations and some really cute peas, this little book is a fun way of counting. One aspect I like is how it’s a sturdy board book – it’s engaging with the peep through holes and the stand out peas, but it won’t get damaged easily!

I think this would make the perfect Christmas gift for little people. The colours really stand out and there’s just the right amount of detail to keep children interested in looking at the illustrations along with the text. I’d highly recommend checking this one out!


Thank you to Charlie at Little Tiger for my copy!

THE BARNABUS PROJECT – The Fan Brothers

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RELEASED: 06/10/2020
PUBLISHER: Frances Lincoln
GENRE: Children’s, Picture Book

Deep underground beneath Perfect Pets, where children can buy genetically engineered “perfect” creatures, there is a secret lab. Barnabus and his friends live in this lab, but none of them is perfect. They are all Failed Projects. Barnabus has never been outside his tiny bell jar, yet he dreams of one day seeing the world above ground that his pal Pip the cockroach has told him about: a world with green hills and trees, and buildings that reach all the way to the sky, lit with their own stars. But Barnabus may have to reach the outside world sooner than he thought, because the Green Rubber Suits are about to recycle all Failed Projects . . . and Barnabus doesn’t want to be made into a fluffier pet with bigger eyes. He just wants to be himself. So he decides it’s time for he and the others to escape. With his little trunk and a lot of cooperation and courage, Barnabus sets out to find freedom – and a place where he and his friends can finally be accepted for who they are.

This suspenseful, poignant and magical story about following your dreams and finding where you truly belong will draw readers into a surreal, lushly detailed world in which perfection really means being true to yourself and your friends.

Books by The Fan Brothers are always beautifully illustrated with a lovely story and The Barnabus Project is no exception. I adore the illustrations which are just entrancing and the meaning of the story about being yourself is put across in the perfect way.

Barnabus is such an adorable character, and I love that although he’s a “failed project” he’s happy with being himself and wouldn’t want to change. I also think that the message about not judging others comes across really well in this story.

I’d highly recommend The Barnabus Project for fans of stunning artwork and for people looking for a picture book with a really heartfelt message that’s very important.


Thank you to Quarto via NetGalley for this title.

THE MIRACLE ON EBENEZER STREET – Catherine Doyle

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RELEASED: 01/10/2020
PUBLISHER: Penguin
GENRE: Middle Grade, Magical Realism, Christmas

An enchanting and exciting tale of Christmas magic from multi-award-winning and bestselling writer Catherine Doyle.

‘Old Marley’s magic was beginning to stir…’

George is about to spend his third Christmas without his mum. Since she died, George’s life has felt dull and grey; his dad has thrown himself into his work and has no time for family, and definitely no time for Christmas.

Then, George stumbles across Marley’s Curiosity Shop. There he finds a mysterious snow globe, which – though George can’t quite understand how – appears to show a scene from George’s past. A Christmas in which he and his family were together, and happy…

That night, George and his dad are swept on an adventure to three Christmases – past, present, and future. With help from new friends, and just a touch of magic, can they begin living life in full colour again?

A stunning modern reimagining of Charles Dickens’ beloved classic, A Christmas Carol.

If I can urge you to read one book this Christmas, please choose The Miracle on Ebenezer Street; it’s full of magic, warmth and humour and makes for a perfect festive read!

As soon as I started reading this book, I knew it was one that I was going to love – the writing is just captivating and the characters are ones that you just click with, even Hugo! The book moves at a really good pace, so the magic of winter London is there and the characters have depth, and it’s this which sets it apart from other A Christmas Carol stories, including the original (whilst I love the premise, I found the actual book [A Christmas Carol] to be a drag with the overly descriptive writing). I found it much easier to engage with this world and these characters, although I did still love the nod to the original with different names featuring along the way!

One of my favourite characters has to be Nana Flo with her festive spirit – she really made the book that extra bit more special with her youthfulness and fun! That said, all the characters were likeable and interesting to join on this adventure!

Catherine Doyle has done a better job that I could’ve imagined possible in this modern take of A Christmas Carol, making the story her own and something new for readers to love; despite knowing the basic premise of the story, there were so many wonderful aspects to this book that made it truly unique and one of the best reading experiences I’ve had in a long time.


Thank you to Penguin via NetGalley for my copy of this book!

THE GRIFFIN GATE – Vashti Hardy

4/5

RELEASED: 01/10/2020
PUBLISHER: Barrington Stoke
GENRE: Children’s Fiction, Middle Grade

“Warden Griffin at your service. Can I ask if you’ve seen a monster in the area …?”

Grace’s family are wardens of the Griffin Map, using its teleport technology to fight crime across Moreland. Although Grace is still too young, she longs to go on missions herself. After all, if her brother, Bren, can do it, why can’t she?

So when Grace finds herself alone with the map when a distress call comes in, she jumps at the chance to prove she’s up to the task. But the map transports Grace to a remote village where nothing is quite as it seems … Has she taken on more than she can handle?

Be transported to a world like no other in this steampunk, fantasy adventure with family at its heart from Blue Peter Book Award-winner Vashti Hardy.

As soon as I saw the beautiful cover for this book, it sparked my interest. Add to that Vashti Hardy’s reputation as a brilliant children’s author and I was sold! I picked this one up immediately once I’d received my copy and read it in one sitting!

I was definitely not let down by this The Griffin Gate; it packs an intriguing adventure and mystery into such a small book, and I love that, as with all Barrington Stoke books, it’s accessible to such a variety of readers. Grace as a character was so likeable and she very much drove the story forward with her inquisitive nature and thirst to prove herself. I can’t wait for book two in this series!

The steampunk elements of the story really appealed to me and gave vibes of some of my favourite children’s books such as Cogheart and A Place Called Perfect. I also liked how there are just enough characters to keep the story moving but not so many as to be overwhelming. The story itself is fun, mysterious and keeps you wanting to find out more, and the illustrations are brilliant!

Overall, this has been one of my favourite middle grade Barrington Stoke books, and it’s definitely a series that I’m keen to stick with!


Thank you to Kirstin at Barrington Stoke for sending me a copy of this book!

THE BEAR, THE PIANO AND LITTLE BEAR’S CONCERT – David Litchfield

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RELEASED: 01/09/2020
PUBLISHER: Frances Lincoln
GENRE: Picture Book, Children’s Book

You probably remember the story of the bear who found the piano in the woods and grew up to become a huge star. He played his music in front of millions of adoring fans and all of his wildest dreams came true. But now, the audiences are smaller, the pianos less grand, and the applause is dying away. So Bear decides to retire. Back in the woods, he is sad that his dream is over but he soon has something to distract him: Little Bear! When Little Bear stumbles upon his piano in the woods, she can’t believe it when her father says that no one wants to hear his music anymore. So she comes up with a plan to prove him wrong.

The final book in the award-winning, best-selling trilogy shows that while fame and fortune might be temporary, the best songs stay in your heart forever.

I was so so excited to get my hands on a finished copy of this book; I had a sneak peek via NetGalley but digital just didn’t do justice to how beautiful David Litchfield’s illustrations are! 

I genuinely squealed when I received a parcel the other day containing this book and immediately tore open the packaging to reveal this stunning picture book! I’ve been a massive fan of David’s for a long time; his illustrations just make a book that extra bit special. The Bear and the Piano is a very popular series, and rightly so. I loved the first book, loved the second, and, not surprisingly, loved the third!

The Bear, the Piano and Little Bear’s Concert is just so lovingly crafted, pulls at your heartstrings and leaves you feeling all warm and fuzzy. I was not disappointed by this book at all. In fact, the sole thing I didn’t like is the fact that it is the final book in the series!


Thank you to Chris at Quarto for sending me a copy of this book!

READ WITH PRIDE – Lucy Powrie

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RELEASED: 28/5/2020
PUBLISHER: Hachette
GENRE: Young Adult, Teen, Contemporary, LGBT

The much anticipated second book in The Paper & Hearts Society series by Booktuber Lucy Powrie. Will you be the next recruit for The Paper & Hearts Society book club? For fans of Holly Smale and Super Awkward.

Olivia Santos is excited for her last year at secondary school. But when a parent complains about LGBTQ+ content in one of the books, the library implements a new policy for withdrawing books. Olivia is distraught – she’s demisexual and knows how important it is for all readers to see themselves represented.

Luckily, she’s the mastermind behind The Paper & Hearts Society book club, and she knows exactly what to do: start a new club, find ways of evading the system, and change the policy for good!

With two book clubs to run, exams to prepare for, and a girlfriend, just how long will it be before Olivia burns out? After all, creating a book club and trying to get the #ReadWithPride hashtag to get noticed is going to take a lot of energy.

Sometimes, when you’re in too deep, it’s up to your friends to look out for you…

One of my favourite debuts of all time was Lucy Powrie’s The Paper & Hearts Society, so naturally I was VERY excited to read Read With Pride on that basis. I’d connected so much to the characters in book one and really had “found my people”. That possibly was the one hesitation I had going into Read With Pride; I wasn’t sure how much I’d connect to how the characters were feeling; I’m not from the LGBT community. I definitely need not have worried however; this book was so inclusive and covered such a variety of characters and the issues raised were ones that I wholeheartedly agreed with the indignation that Olivia felt!

The key theme that the book starts with is the completely absurd rules brought in at her school that requires parental permission to read books that have LGBT themes – that kind of control and oppression is wrong! I’m fortunate that I’ve never had my reading limited by themes or age appropriateness – I’ve always been free to make my own choices about what I read and to assess their suitability for myself. I can’t even begin to imagine how it must feel to be told you can’t read something because it contains things that someone else has deemed inappropriate without good reason. I fully understood where Olivia was coming from.

I also really connected to Olivia in how she takes on too much! It was really important how Lucy highlighted that sometimes you don’t have to do everything yourself and that you can rely on others to help! Despite not featuring as much in the story, The Paper & Hearts Society really rallied round Olivia at her time of need and they showed how strong their friendship is – they really are a good bunch!

Overall, I really did enjoy Read With Pride! I did miss Tabby a lot as she’s really my favourite member of the society, but it was really interesting to see things from Olivia’s perspective and to see how actually I did have a fair bit in common with her! Yet again, Lucy’s writing was brilliant and made you want to keep reading, and was approachable to readers from the teen market upwards which is something I really love to find!