Tag Archives: MG books

Some Recent Reads

I’m lucky enough to be on the radars of several Very Important Publicists (and fellow authors), so occasionally I’m contacted and asked to read proofs, and/or early copies, of forthcoming books. I can’t always say ‘yes’ to these generous offers, but I do my best to accommodate requests as often as I can. It’s a huge privilege, for which I’m very grateful.

The cover of the proof of GLASSHEART, by Katharine Orton, art by Sandra Dieckmann, to be published by Walker Books UK in November 2020


One of the brilliant books I’ve read in the past few weeks was Glassheart, by Katharine Orton, which is coming from Walker Books UK in November this year. I loved Katharine’s debut, Nevertell, and her second novel is even better – a heartfelt, poignant and powerful story about grief, and war, and the power of sadness to both build up and to destroy. It tells the story of Nona, niece to a master glazier, who helps him work to try to repair the damaged windows in buildings torn by war. On a new job in Dartmoor, they encounter strange and inexplicable magic, which seems to have taken over Nona’s uncle. It’s up to Nona to get to the bottom of the mystery of the wild power, and to unravel its connection to the windows her uncle is labouring to complete. This book is a solid 5/5 for me – I loved it, and I can’t wait until it’s out for everyone to enjoy.

Return to Roar

Anyone who (like me) loved Jenny McLachlan’s The Land of Roar last year will absolutely devour the sequel, Return to Roar. Crowky, one of the best and scariest villains around, makes a welcome – or unwelcome – return, and the story is stuffed with the same spills, thrills, and wildly imaginative adventures as the first book. Arthur and Rose are on a week’s holidays in Grandad’s house, and so what better way to fill their days than to make a return visit to the land of imagination they cooked up as younger children, and which somehow exists for real through the special portal in Grandad’s attic. They think Crowky is gone, but then they realise he may not be – and that the key to him finding his way back through the portal and into the Real might be dangerously close… Another 5-star read for me, Return to Roar is currently available.

The Hungry Ghost

H.S. Norup’s The Hungry Ghost is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time – certainly, it’s one of my favourites from this year. Telling the tale of Danish girl Freja, who arrives in Singapore during Hungry Ghost month, it’s an incredibly well-crafted story of family, loss, grief, and love – as well as having a healthy dollop of adventure, mystery, and intrigue, too. Freja meets an enigmatic, mysterious, and not a little spooky girl in a white dress during her time in Singapore, and alongside her new friend discovers hidden secrets in this new city, as well as an entirely forgotten chapter to her family history. You may need tissues by the end… The Hungry Ghost is genuinely stunning, with evocatively-written settings and extraordinary character building. An absolute 5-star read.

The House at the Edge of Magic

Amy Sparkes’ The House at the Edge of Magic is a delight. Coming next January from Walker Books UK, it’s a genuinely funny story, but not one lacking in stakes, excitement, or pathos. We follow Nine, a pickpocket who lives in the Nest, a run-down ‘shelter’ for pickpockets like her, where their bed and board must be paid for with trinkets and treasures. Nine only has one treasure, which she’s had since she was a baby, and she hasn’t been lucky, lately, with the pockets she’s tried to pick. Then, she sees a young lady in the streets and tries to steal from her, only to discover a tiny house in her pocket – which very rapidly grows into a huge house, home to Flabberghast the magician and his motley crew of raggle-taggle beasties. This story had me glued to the pages, with a grin on my face throughout. If you’re a fan of Diana Wynne Jones, particularly Howl’s Moving Castle, this book should definitely appeal.


Eve McDonnell’s debut novel Elsetime is nearly among us! In fact, I think my pre-ordered copy is already on its way to me… *excited face* I was lucky enough to be asked to read the proof of Eve’s book several months ago, and it has stayed with me ever since. Her characters – particularly her gorgeous-hearted, brave, stalwart Needle, and feisty apprentice jewellery-maker Glory Bobbin – are wonderfully crafted, and this twisty, fast-paced story will keep you guessing right to the end. A time-slip adventure, utilising a very clever mechanism for travelling from one era to the other, Elsetime is the tale of Needle, a mudlark, who discovers a very unusual treasure in the muck one day – a treasure that brings him somewhere he could never have imagined, tasked with saving people from a flood only he knows is going to happen. Based on real events around the Great Flood of London in 1928, this is a unique and memorable book – which should be available very soon!

These are only a flavour of the excellent books I’ve been treated to over the past few months, but I hope they’ll give you some inspiration to go out (or stay home) and support your local independent bookshops; they need the help, and your brain needs these stories. Happy reading!

Cover Reveal for THE EYE OF THE NORTH (UK edition)!

This morning, my wi-fi stopped working just before 8 am. That was unfortunate, because a very wonderful book blogger named Jo Clarke was preparing to unveil the UK cover for my book, THE EYE OF THE NORTH, right at that time.

It was one of those moments where you just have to shake your head and laugh at the absurdity of the universe.

In any case, shortly after 8 my internet came back and I was able to do what I’m urging you to do now, which is visit this lovely post on Jo’s blog and read what she had to say about my book, and her very kind words about the beautiful cover image. I’m extremely grateful to Jo, and to my publishers (Stripes Publishing), for giving me the joyful experience of a good old-fashioned cover reveal – it was so much fun, and I’m so thankful to all those who took the time to share, comment on and show their appreciation for the beautiful art which has been created for the UK publication of THE EYE OF THE NORTH.

And, because I can’t resist, I’m going to share the stupendous cover image myself. It was designed by Sophie Bransby at Stripes and drawn by Sara Mulvanny, and here it is:


THE EYE OF THE NORTH front cover, UK edition (Stripes Publishing, 2018), artist Sara Mulvanny, designer Sophie Bransby

So. Now you know what to look for when shopping for excellent books on or after February 8th, 2018. What do you think of the cover art? Let me know!

One Girl Went to Mo, Went to NaNoWriMo…

Yes. The rumours you may have heard are true. I am, in fact, taking part in NaNoWriMo 2017. I’m currently way behind on my word count, naturally, because as well as being the mother of a toddler so energetic that, basically, by the end of the day I’m barely fit to sit upright in a chair, I’ve also been sick for the past three or four days.


I’ll be all right in a minute.


I don’t think it’s catching – hey! Come back!

Anyway. For those of you still within shouting distance, you can check out more about NaNoWriMo here. If you’ve never heard of it before, it’s basically a writing challenge for the month of November where people all over the world attempt to write 50,000 words in 30 days. I took part in it before, back in 2013, and managed to complete the challenge; the novel I started then turned into what has become The Eye of the North. I’m far from being the only person who has turned a NaNo project into a published book – check out the #NaNoWriMo hashtag on Twitter, where other authors have talked about turning their fast-drafted first drafts into polished, publishable work.

So. Have I convinced you to try it yet? Check it out. 50,000 words sounds like a lot – it is a lot – but it’s basically 1,700 words a day for the entire month. And then? You have the bones of a finished book. It’s an amazing thing, to validate your novel and get marked as a winner – and even if you never do anything with your words, you’ve still managed to complete a challenge that most people will never attempt.

And maybe you’ll find yourself, in a couple of years, reminiscing about good ol’ NaNoWriMo as you sign your publishing contract with an artistic flourish. Who knows?

In any case, wish me luck. I’m going to need it. My NaNo project is titled – for now – The Leaky Witch, and you can read a bit more about it here. I’ll keep you all posted!



Release the Author…

There’s so much dust on my blogging seat these days that I can hardly see it… Let me just blow it off, okay?

*hauls in a deep lungful*


*splutters* *turns purple* *keels over in a fit of coughing*

Sorry about that. *cof* I’ll be all right in a minute. *cof*

Right. Time to clamber back aboard the hot-seat. It’s been so long since I blogged that I feel quite ashamed, but there has been a lot going on in my life, personally and professionally, which I won’t bore you with. Suffice it to say, I’ve been with you all in spirit and you’ve never been far from my thoughts, but actually finding the time to be here proved a bit of a logistical impossibility.

Anyway. Basically, I’m here today on a flying visit to tell you about something very terrifying cool.

Ready? Here we go.

This year’s lineup for the Children’s Books Ireland conference has just been announced, and – to my flabbergasted delight – I’m on it. Part of the conference is devoted to New Voices, and that’ll be the panel I’ll appear on, along with several other brand-new fledgling authors, to do readings from our work and let the world of children’s books in Ireland (and further afield) see our shiny little faces and meet our (hopefully not too terrified) selves. With any luck, I’ll be able to reveal the cover of the UK edition of THE EYE OF THE NORTH at the conference too, which will be excellent fun.

I am of course completely over the moon about all of this and any visible signs of utter terror are entirely coincidental. Right? Right.

The CBI Conference, for those who don’t know, is a marvellous gathering of kidlit-folk, booksellers and authors and illustrators and teachers and librarians and enthusiasts alike, who get together once a year to touch base and find out what’s been going on in the field (and, if I’m being honest, to fangirl/boy, squee a lot and do some serious hugging, which is always nice). I try to attend whenever I can, though I’ve been spotty the last few years (hello, parenthood), and I was very pleased to be asked to actually take part this year. It’s a welcoming, warm and very fun event – or, at least it is when other people are on the podium – so I’m hoping this year will be no different. (Particularly during my slot. Don’t worry – it’ll be brief.)

So. If you’re around Dublin at the end of September and you fancy immersing yourself in the neverending joy to be found in children’s literature, why not come along? You can purchase tickets, and/or membership of Children’s Books Ireland, HERE, and it would certainly be spiffing to see you.

Until next time, my wordy friends, read well and be happy.


Cover image for THE EYE OF THE NORTH (Knopf BFYR, 2017), artist Jeff Nentrup.


Book Review Saturday: ‘The Spindlers’

I hope it’s a bright and beautiful Saturday where you are; if not, then maybe this review will bring a bit of sunshine into your life.

Today, I’ll be talking about Lauren Oliver’s beautiful book ‘The Spindlers’.

Image: goodreads.com

Image: goodreads.com

Ms. Oliver is a noted author of both children’s and YA novels, though I have yet to read any of her books for older readers. I’ve been wanting to pick up some of her work for a while now, and when I saw the beautiful cover art on ‘The Spindlers’, I knew it was coming home with me. Plus, the story is about a young girl who braves the terrors of the underworld to rescue her little brother’s soul – what more could any book promise?

Lauren Oliver’s book not only promises much, but it delivers too. I really enjoyed ‘The Spindlers’, and if you sit tight and behave, I’ll tell you why.

Ready? Okay.

So. ‘The Spindlers’ introduces us to Liza Elston and her younger brother Patrick, who live with their parents in a normal house on a normal street in a normal town. Their parents are loving and kind, but also stressed and overworked and tired and have little time to play or have fun anymore. The kids’ beloved babysitter Anna has just gone off to college, and they both miss her terribly; they talk about her to one another and they remember her as being fun, a teller of great stories and an inventor of brilliant games – but, most importantly, she has always given them excellent advice about the nastier things in life, things that lurk in the dark and which want to steal away children’s souls. Following her directions to the letter, the children stay safe for a very long time, but then one day Patrick forgets to take precautions, and he’s claimed by the fearsome Spindlers… and so our tale begins.

Despite the fact that she doesn’t actually appear in the book, Anna is one of its most important characters. Her wisdom and love for Liza and Patrick shine through the whole thing, and at times of crisis Liza remembers the lessons taught to her not only by her parents but also by Anna, and it’s actually Anna, who (somehow) has an intimate knowledge of the workings of the world Below who gives Liza the most help on her quest. It’s not even important that we don’t find out how, and why, Anna is so knowledgeable about the other world; she’s like a good witch, or a fairy godmother. She gives love and advice and guidance, expecting nothing in return, and even in her absence she is a force for good. Liza, too, is a wonderful character – strong and brave and intelligent, she knows straight away that her brother’s soul has been taken by the terrible Spindlers, creatures who are half-spider and half-human, and who are so awful that they’re feared even by the other creatures who live in the underworld. She is not fooled by the fact that a changeling is left in Patrick’s place, a being which moves and looks and sounds like her brother – she knows it’s not him, and she knows what she has to do to save him.

Having found the entrance to the underworld, she meets a huge variety of strange and wonderful creatures, including a rat who wears a wig (as well as rouge and lipstick) who acts as her unofficial guide; troglods, little brown, scuttling creatures who buy and sell all those objects humans ‘lose’ in the world Above and which somehow find their way Below; scawgs, shapechanging horrors who try to lure you in by tempting you with gorgeous food that makes you hungrier the more you eat of it, and the beautifully described nocturni, or dream-bringers, of which every soul has one, paired together for all eternity. The journey itself is reminiscent of a lot of quest narratives – a guide is found, trust is built up between them (but is it misplaced?), tests are encountered, terror is faced up to, threats which are mentioned in passing end up becoming horrifying reality, and the rules of the otherworld are broken by the intruding human to interesting narrative effect. The gradual building up of the relationship between Liza and Mirabella (her rouge-wearing rat guide) is wonderfully done – the initial disgust and mistrust between them slowly warming into friendship before hitting a seemingly insurmountable barrier – and the complicated feelings Liza has for her little brother are realistically, and touchingly, described. The feats of imagination on the part of the author are wonderful, particularly with regard to the nocturni, which are truly beautiful creations.

Liza must face a test near the end of the book, a test which has three parts. The last part sees her tempted by a ‘perfect’ family, one who promises to love and treasure her, to pay her attention and play with her. They tell her they’re better than her family Above, who are too busy and too stressed and preoccupied by bills and jobs and problems to take proper care of her. In this respect, the book reminded me a little of Neil Gaiman’s masterful ‘Coraline’, in which the Other Mother tempts Coraline to stay with her for much the same reason; of course, our heroines in both cases see through this temptation, and realise how much they love their own families in the process. Another theme I relished in this book is one of justice vs injustice, a topic which was close to my heart as a youngster – Liza is unfairly judged by the Court of Stones on her way through the underworld, and then near the end of the book the Spindler Queen does not keep her part of a bargain – and the sense of rage and unfairness is deftly handled. Not only does it serve to underline the evil of Liza’s enemies, but it also drives the reader to empathise even more with her desperate plight.

Some of the ideas in this book will be familiar and dearly-loved territory to readers, like me, who love mythology and are interested in story structure and motifs; even if you’re not a nerd like me, though, the book is beautiful. What makes it so especially lovely is Ms. Oliver’s use of language; her imagery sparkles at times and she doesn’t dumb down her vocabulary or descriptive touches. I really like that in a children’s author – a person who’s not afraid to stretch young readers with long and delicious words is, to my mind, a good children’s author.

I thoroughly enjoyed ‘The Spindlers’ – there’s enough terror and peril there to keep even the most bloodthirsty reader happy, and there’s enough wonder and beauty there to charm the rest. As well as that, the over-arching themes – loyalty, love, bravery, facing up to challenges, digging deep within yourself for strength you didn’t even know was there – are delightful. I’d recommend this book if you know any 8/9+ readers in search of a gripping story, and I challenge you not to dip in and have a read yourself…

Happy Saturday! Enjoy, relax, put your feet up and read.

Image: learn.esu10.org

Image: learn.esu10.org