The House on March Lane

The House on March Lane

Michelle Briscombe

Candy Jar Books

Journey to Dragon Island

The Accidental Pirates: Journey to Dragon Island

Claire Fayers

Macmillan

This book is a romp! A raucous and rapturous, riotous romp. It is full of mirth, brimming with humour and has more adventure than you thought possible!

Following on from the successful first instalment, ‘The Voyage to Magical North’, Brine Seaborne and her accidental pirate crew set off on The Onion in search of dragons and to discover her true home. The crew is quite a large one, and if you haven’t read the first book, you may want to start there to ensure you’re familiar with everyone. Amongst them, you’ll meet anxious Peter, who can do magic, a special almost spiritual kind of magic, but is nervous that it will all go wrong (because it has done in the past); and you’ll meet Tom, a librarian with many wise words.

The plot moves quickly and is full of twists and turns; sometimes coming in quick succession, and always keeping you on your toes. There is a ghost; there are dragons, dinosaurs, volcanos, and at one point they fall off the end of the world. This really is life or death stuff, but it’s imbued throughout with a great deal of fun and Claire Fayers stays in total control as she steers us through quicksand, flesh-eating vines and that terrifying volcano.

The characters are extremely likeable and despite the fantastical situations, their emotions and relationships are very real. At the heart of the book there are life-affirming messages of resilience, self-belief and friendship, as the crew work together to discover Brine’s true heritage.

A brilliant comic-mystery-adventure that leaves us yearning for the final book in the trilogy.

Grace-Ella: Spells for Beginners

Grace Ella: Spells for Beginners

Sharon Marie Jones

Illustrated by Adriana J Puglisi

Dragonfly

Reviewed by Nina Worm

Grace-Ella is a super amazing and very imaginative book. It is full of fun and I really loved it. Grace-Ella finds out that she is a witch and she starts to learn how to do lots of spells properly. I would love to be able to do magic spells – I’d especially like to be able to fly so that I can get away more quickly in a game of tag!

Grace-Ella has some good friends in the book, Bedwyr and Fflur, and they share Grace-Ella’s adventures. My favourite part of the book was when the friends were getting ready for the Halloween party and Grace-Ella was using her magic to make everyone’s costumes extra realistic. Unfortunately, Amelia is also in the book. She is a nasty, sneaky, boastful, show-off bully who does unkind things and never ever gets caught. But you’ll be glad to know that she does get what she deserves in the end!

I think this book would be great for Year 2 and up and there definitely needs to be more books about Grace-Ella. Maybe – Grace-Ella: Spells for Juniors?

Daddy Worm says: There’s not a lot I can add to Nina’s review – as you can tell she really enjoyed it and was uber-keen to read. The short chapters interspersed with a few illustrations by Adriana Puglisi really encouraged her to read on her own with a lot of success. She has also now started to read short passages in her head – so thank you Sharon Marie Jones for the encouragement, and we look forward to more magical adventures in the future.

St. David’s Day is Cancelled

St David’s Day is Cancelled

Wendy White

Gwasg Gomer

Reviewed by Nina Worm

This is an awesome, very funny book about my favourite time of the year – St. David’s Day. I can’t imagine what would happen if St. David’s Day was cancelled in my school – but that’s exactly what happens in this book.

Seren Wen is in charge of her school newspaper team and they find out that Mrs Right, the headteacher is going to cancel the special day. Should they try and make her change her mind? Or do they need to come up with a different plan?
My favourite characters in the book are Sir and Rev. Right. Sir is very greedy and will eat anything – with funny consequences; and Rev. Right makes all the children giggle because he has a set of false teeth that fall out when he gets excited!

I recommend this book to children in Year 2, 3 and 4 – the illustrations by Huw Aaron are really good too. St David’s Day is Cancelled is now my most favourite book (before this it was Mr Cleghorn’s Seal by Judith Kerr).

Daddy Worm says: Nina thoroughly enjoyed this delightfully entertaining Welsh-centric tale. It spoke to her directly with 2 of her most favourite things – school and St. David’s Day. It’s an engaging and humorous story that she treasured reading. Descriptions of characters are very amusing – particularly Rev. Right (I could hear the groans when it was announced that the dismal reverend would be giving a special talk on the history of Wales instead of the St. David’s Day concert). I’m convinced she’ll be asking to re-read this again very soon.

 

A copy of St David’s Day is Cancelled was provided by Gwasg Gomer in exchange for an honest review.

Aubrey and the Terrible Ladybirds

Aubrey and the Terrible Ladybirds

Horatio Clare / Illustrated by Jane Matthews

Firefly Press

I love sharing books with Noah. We read together at bedtime, snuggled on beanbags in his bedroom. Last year, we read Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot, Horatio Clare’s first foray into children’s stories; a deeply affecting and skillfully crafted novel with touches of fantasy and lots of heart. It instantly became a favourite book for both of us and we have been anticipating the arrival of these ladybirds for a while, and there was absolutely no way I was going to let him read it without me.

Aubrey can talk to animals, but that’s a moot point. At the start of his Easter holidays, he is shrunken to the size of a ten pence coin and is visited by a spider asking him to save the world. You see, a family of ladybirds has arrived from overseas – they are not like the domestic ladybirds and are not welcomed. What starts as a small argument between ladybirds (“They’re not from round here. They’re big and weird. Go back to where you came from!”) develops into an extremely unattractive fracas involving all the animals of Rushing Wood.

There are big themes at work here, with issues of tolerance and respect at the core. I can’t help but revel in the irony that Clare uses animals to teach lessons about humanity. Aubrey discovers that insects on the continent are being poisoned by farming methods, which in turn affects the food chain – “If you don’t help us the insects will vanish. The plants won’t grow and the animals won’t eat. And humans are animals too.” This is termed ‘The Great Hunger’ and is the reason the spider asks Aubrey to save the world.

You may be thinking that this all sounds very hardgoing, but Clare handles it all with a lightness of touch and great humour: From hapless spy Mr Ferraby the neighbour who reports back to his incredulous wife, to the inspired footnotes dotted throughout the book which support our understanding but also take the reader down surreal cul-de-sac*. The plethora of insects, birds and mammals who make up the cast of this novel are also great fun with their stereotype personas.

There is brilliant storytelling too – from the heart-stopping descriptions of Aubrey clinging to the back of Hirundo the swallow as he tries to outsmart the high speed aerial manoeuvres (and talons) of a Hobby, to the impassioned speech of French human child Pascale.

Aubrey and the Terrible Ladybirds is a fantastic book. Nine year old Noah “absolutely loved it” because it was full of awesome adventure and has slotted it next to Terrible Yoot in his Top Ten books. Undoubtedly, The Ladybirds will have a wider appeal than Yoot, bringing it to the attention of a bigger audience. That audience will understand that Aubrey and the Terrible Ladybirds is a book about the universal truths of love, compassion and kindness – to each other, to the environment and to the animals.

Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot can be purchased from your local independent bookshop, or online.

We are grateful to Firefly Press who provided a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

FOOTNOTE

*This is the correct plural of cul-de-sac, coming from the French, literally meaning “bottom of the bag”. Some dictionaries allow cul-de-sacs but this is madness. In this case, it is used metaphorically to express an action that is an impasse**.

**Impasse describes a situation in which progress is impossible.

Author Q&A: Eloise Williams

We are delighted that Eloise Williams has completed our Q & A this month. The author of Elen’s Island is currently receiving rave reviews for her new novel, Gaslight. Set in Victorian Cardiff, Nansi is fished out of Cardiff docks and her mother has disappeared. With no family to turn to, she works for Sid at the Empire Theatre, sometimes legally and sometimes thieving to order. Life is hard but Nansi is a fighter, determined to protect her friend Bee and, most of all, to find her mother.

Eloise is no stranger to theatre herself, having performed on stage in productions of Les Mis at Cardiff Castle and in productions and projects at theatres and venues across the capital. This, after earning a place at the Welsh College of Music and Drama, where she studied Victorian Theatre.  As she says herself “Without all those experiences, I don’t think Nansi or Gaslight would have been possible.”

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m reading a book called ‘Evie’s Ghost’ by Helen Peters. I’ve just started it today. Next up is ‘Alex Sparrow and the Really Big Stink’ by Jennifer Killick.

Where and when do you write?

All the time! Everywhere! I do have a writing desk which teeters and topples with stationary and books but most of my writing is done by the sea, or in the middle of a walk through the woods. I’ll suddenly have an idea and an overwhelming need to write it down immediately on a scrap of paper, or in almost incomprehensible short hand on my mobile phone. I often phone my own number and leave messages about the next part of my story so I can pick them up when I get home.

Who or what inspires you?

I’m inspired by lots of things and people. People include: Maya Angelou, Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, Amelia Earheart, Cheryl Strayed, Emmeline Pankhurst, Malala Yousafzai, Florence Welch, Chris Packham, my friend Rosalind Hayler, my Mum… the list goes on… but it consists mostly of strong women (except Chris Packham!) who are courageous and/or kind. I think being kind is sometimes the most courageous thing you can be. And being yourself is incredibly important. I’m also inspired by place. Atmosphere, beauty, history, stories, flowers, ghosts, the sea.

Which book do you wish you’d written?

Only one? Gulp…

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.

That’s two, isn’t it. Don’t get me started on books for children… the list is never ending.

How long did it take you to write Gaslight?

I had the idea in 1994. It took a while to get around to it. I have been known to procrastinate somewhat.

How do you choose character names?

Sometimes I will pick a name because of its meaning or because of where and when the character lived. Nansi’s name was taken from a beautiful, old, ivy-covered gravestone in a Victorian churchyard close to the sea.

How important was it for Gaslight to be set in Wales?

The book is about Cardiff and it couldn’t have been set anywhere else. When I studied Victorian Theatre at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama I knew then that there was a book waiting to be written about the city just outside the window. I love Cardiff. It’s a vibrant, beautiful, exciting place and I know it. It’s in my blood, my family, my history.

You’re on record as saying that people have told you not to set your books in Wales if you want it to sell. Why do you think they said this and why did you ignore the advice?

I don’t know why they said this. I think stories set in Wales are as important as stories set anywhere else. ALL stories are important.

It makes me think of an Oscar Wilde quote: ‘I always pass on good advice. It is the only thing to do with it. It is never of any use to oneself.’

In Gaslight, Nansi’s mother suggests that children’s books are sanitised to make them kinder. Were you conscious of making your writing palatable to children?

Interesting, exciting, real, rather than palatable. Victorian life wasn’t easy for a girl like Nansi. I wanted to tell her story truthfully.

What other authors are you friends with and how do they support you (or are they a hindrance)?

A hindrance? Ha ha! Not at all! I’m friends with lots of authors! They are a lovely supportive bunch. It’s a really good crowd to be a part of.

Can you tell us something about your next book/idea/future plans?

Future plans are to carry on writing Middle Grade Fiction. I have three books I’m dabbling with at the moment. I also have about a hundred ideas for other books but I’m trying to be disciplined so I can actually finish something!

If you weren’t an author what would you do?

I’d work with animals. In the wild. Or be an explorer. Or maybe a lighthouse keeper.

 

Gaslight is published by Firefly Press and is available directly from them (click on the link) or from your local bookshop or online.

Praise for the novel:

“Stunning – so tense, atmospheric and really well written.” Ashley Booth (@mrboothY6)

“Beautifully written… with a great central character full of gumption… I couldn’t put it down!” Wendy White

“Vivid, raw and real; characters zing and sparkle with life.” FamilyBookworms

“A darkly delicious romp through the backstreets of Cardiff.” Emma Carroll

“An absolute firecracker of a book. Gorgeously raw, dark and Dickensian. Dreamlike and intoxicating.” Lucy Strange

Sweet Pizza

Sweet Pizza

G.R. Gemin

Nosy Crow

Sweet Pizza is Giancarlo Gemin’s second book. His first, the highly praised Cowgirl, won the Tir Na n-Og Award in 2015 and was nominated for many others. Giancarlo was born in Cardiff to Italian parents.

Sweet Pizza is about a South Wales valley café under threat; Joe’s mam is stuck in a rut – she’s down in the dumps, jaded by the daily grind and is beginning to accept that the café’s days are numbered. Her son Joe, however, has an entrepreneurial spirit like his immigrant ancestors; he is unwilling to accept that the café is a lost cause and has ideas to breathe new life into it and make it the centre of the community once more.

Maybe Joe’s mum is so weary because her dad (Joe’s Nonno) is so unwell – or maybe she’s tired of seeing the jobs, investment and soul being ripped from the valley. Joe is proud of his heritage, proud of his ancestors, and proud of the valley in which he lives.

Throughout the book, we learn more and more of how Joe’s family, like many other Italians in South Wales, came to settle in the area. Joe is getting his Nonno to record the family’s history before the inevitable happens.

The novel reads like a soap opera – a good soap opera, where you get a real insight into the family’s life, getting to grips with their relationships, their fears, their motivations, their triggers, their highs and lows. The characters are very real and you feel their frustrations as well as their joys.

There’s a lot of wit and humour in the book and I adored the depictions of the generous and charismatic people of the valley. The dialogue is full of verve and oomph – the valleys lilt and Italian-Wenglish dialects add to the appeal. More than anything, this book is a warm celebration of that diverse community, coming together to celebrate fellowship, identity and heritage.

Akin to home-cooked Italian food, the narrative is charming, comforting and made with love. But there is also great skill at work here – for something to appear so life affirming and tasty.

 

Alien Rain

Alien Rain

Ruth Morgan

Firefly Press

Ruth Morgan’s Alien Rain is one of the most engrossing novels I have read recently. I begin by apologising to Nina Worm who was late to gymnastics because Mummy Worm was determined to finish this enthralling page-turner!

Bree Aurora, the teenage heroine, lives in Cardiff, Mars. Yes, a cool address and the descriptions of this sci-fi setting are original, convincing (I love the name drops and associations of Cardiff suburbs!) and visually stunning in the choice of detail. Bree has a gift for Empathy, which is one of the “soft subjects” in her top ranking school, and is the last person expected to be chosen for the prestigious trip to Earth. Humanity, as we know it, has been eradicated but the details of this final war are kept tantalisingly hidden until late in the novel.

Love-hate relationships simmer through the plot with ingenious machinery, apocalyptic Salvador Dali-esque imagery and physical and emotional journeys aplenty. There is something for everyone here, certainly Science Fiction in the truest sense, but at the core is a teenager who discovers self worth. There are pages where Morgan alludes to the horror genre and grips you in an icy embrace with the terror of the unknown. Just as convincing and one of my lasting impressions is the awe and wonder of the beauty of Mother Earth, “with its scary out-of-control lushness and fecundity” and Bree’s longing to be accepted on “this mystifying, rich and diverse planet”. The brilliance of this novel is that you journey not only through space but also through time and are left with a greater appreciation of our natural history – as well as an intense desire to spend longer in the “Origins of Earth” section of the Cardiff Museum!

There is so much more to praise here and I hope that Ruth Morgan has more in store for us. My advice to anyone looking for a Sci-Fi adventure is to step out and get themselves soaked in “Alien Rain”.

 

We are grateful to Firefly Press for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Gaslight

Gaslight
Eloise Williams
Firefly Press

Gaslight is incredibly rich in detail – full of vivid descriptions of a grimy Victorian underworld. You can taste, smell and feel the sooty Cardiff backstreets with every page turn.

The story tells of Nansi, a young girl in constant conflict with villainous theatre owner Sid (a Dickensian fiend and devilishly corrupt master) as she tries to uncover the whereabouts of her mother. It’s a hard life – split between bit parts on the Empire Theatre stage and thieving from rich households, all the time dreaming of being able to find her own identity and free herself from the perilous life she leads.

Whilst the portrait is bleak, the characters zing and sparkle with life – Nansi is bold, feisty and independent; Sid is menacing, evil and intimidating (there was cheering and much jumping on beds when we read of his comeuppance!) This is absolute testimony to the skill of the author: Eloise Williams received a Literature Wales Writer’s Bursary to produce this book and they should be very well pleased “to Barry and back” as they’ve had more than their money’s worth.

The tale is brutal too as descriptions and suggestions of death, incarceration, and ill-treatment are not shirked from; and in the final few pages of Gaslight, as Nansi is poring over a selection of beloved books, the strong female lead declares that children’s books are often censored and made more palatable so the audience will not be scared, and we sense that this may be the author’s voice, standing up for the raw, real and gripping tale that she has produced.

I loved it and heartily recommend to mature readers age 10 and up.