Thursday, 23 October 2014

Review: Amelie and Nanette - Snowflakes and Fairy Wishes by Sophie Tilley

Publisher: Bloomsbury Children's Books
Format: Large hardcover
Released: October 23rd, 2014
Rating: 8/10

Amazon summary:

Amelie and Nanette are very excited! Christmas is coming, and they are busy making their fairy costumes for the party at school. There are cakes to bake and paper chains to make too. But on the day of the party, poor Nanette starts to shiver and sneeze - and has to stay at home! They are both very sad, but when Nanette gets better, a special fairy comes to visit, and Pilou the dog delivers a sack full of cards from her school friends!


I like the Amelie and Nanette picture books because they focus on friendship and how important it is. Sophie Tilley both writes and illustrates these books, including more text than I'm used to in picture books. I think it's great, though - there's more room to tell a longer story and really get to know Amelie and Nanette. And the illustrations are so whimsical!

In Snowflakes and Fairy Wishes, best friends Amelie and Nanette are preparing for Christmas and the school Christmas play. They have costumes to make, food to bake, a tree to decorate and lots of time to spend with each other. It doesn't all go quite to plan though, and that's when the girls really find out what true friendship is all about.

Young readers will love Amelie and Nanette and all their Christmas excitement, particularly because it's so relatable at this time of year. Their friendship is a special one which is lovely to see, and I like that Tilley has chosen to put so much focus on friends and being there for each other. Christmas is a time to spend with your loved ones, after all.

Snowflakes and Fairy Wishes is the best Amelie and Nanette book so far, and is filled with subtle illustrations infused with Christmas magic. Reading this will almost definitely make everyone wish it was December already, with Father Christmas and his reindeers just around the corner ready to deliver lots of presents, snow and carols. It's a great festive read with lots to enjoy, and has the added bonus of featuring two likeable girls with a strong bond that will most probably last forever. Great stuff.

Review: Dork Diaries - Once Upon a Dork by Rachel Renee Russell

Publisher: Simon and Schuster Children's
Format: Hardcover
Released: September 25th, 2014
Rating: 8/10

Amazon summary:

After a bump on the head, Nikki has a wild dream in which she, her BFF's Chloe and Zoey, her crush Brandon, and mean girl Mackenzie all end up playing the roles of some familiar classic fairy tale characters. Will Nikki's dream turn into a nightmare? 


I can't believe this is the eighth instalment in the hugely successful tween Dork Diaries series, but it is and it's just as good as the rest! Rachel Renee Russell delivers her trademark wit, heart and artwork with Nikki's latest diary entries, and once again it makes for an utterly brilliant middle grade read.

In Once Upon a Dork, the majority of the story takes place in a fairy tale world after Nikki gets knocked out playing dodgeball. Fairytales are rewritten and star Nikki and her friends, and she learns a few things about herself and her family in the process of regaining consciousness in the real world. Before that she suffers yet more embarrassing moments at school, mostly thanks to little sister Brianna, and endures the usual horrid attitude from archenemy Mackenzie.

The format of this book is a bit of a departure for this series, and I wasn't sure whether I liked it at first. Dork Diaries prides itself on being realistic for middle schoolers, and so taking Nikki out of that familiar school/home setting seems to be a risk that has luckily paid off. Her trip into fairytale land takes the story into in chartered territory, though somehow it works and allows for some fun fairytale retellings. That's not to say I won't be glad to resume normal service with the next book!

Once Upon a Dork is another great book in this series and one that I read in one sitting. There's something about Nikki and her friends that has held my attention for eight books, which is quite an unusual occurrence when it comes to me and my reading habits. I've followed Nikki for almost five years now, right from the beginning, and I still hope there are many more books to come. As long as they're written, I will be reading them!

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Review: Middle School - Save Rafe! by James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts

Publisher: Arrow
Format: Hardcover / eBook
Released: October 9th, 2014
Rating: 7.5/10

Amazon summary:

After a rough summer, Rafe is heading back to the dreaded Hills Village Middle School, the site of the very worst years of his life. And as if that's not bad enough, Rafe's learned that he's going to be held back a year unless he can prove himself on an outdoor survival excursion – complete with dangerous white-water rafting, dizzying rock climbing and military style counsellors. Rafe and the rest of the pack of 'delinquent' trainees are forced to cooperate as they prepare for the final test: a solo excursion in the deep woods. Can Rafe come out of the experience in one piece? And if he does, will anyone recognise him as the kid they once knew? 


Save Rafe! is the sixth book in the Middle School series written by James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts. It continues chronicling the life of middle school student Rafe Khatchadorian and his unfortunate brushes with trouble.

In Save Rafe!, Rafe is spending a week in the wilderness in order to be accepted back into Hills Village Middle School, which is now under new management. His week away is supposed to teach him to survive, be disciplined and respectful of his elders which, as you can expect, isn't all that the survival course brings with it!

I really enjoy this Middle School series and can see why it's been such a hit with its target age. Rafe is a fun character with very realistic qualities and a hatred of school, and his family are just as likeable as him. Rafe tells it like it is, and even though he has trouble at school he tries his best and writes books to help others through the trauma. He's also funny and quick-witted, especially when faced with new situations like a survival week!

Laura Park has fully illustrated this book, and it compliments the writing perfectly. The pictures all have a middle school feel to them and it's easy to believe that Rafe's included comics are really drawn by him. Above all, the illustrations are comical and well placed, making Save Rafe! a fun read all round.

The Middle School series is one of those series I almost overlooked, but I'm glad I didn't. Save Rafe! ended up being a lot better than I thought it would be, and now I really must go back and read the first four novels in the series. I'm sure Rafe's previous stories are hilarious to read, and no doubt his next mischievous adventure will be just as enjoyable to dig into.

Author Interview: Angus Watson (Age of Iron)

Age of Iron is a great fantasy novel for fans of Game of Thrones, and I really enjoyed it. It's fast-paced, exciting, gruesome, and full of memorable characters with distinct personalities and strengths. There's blood, battles, and lots of political intrigue - the perfect book for these incoming dark Autumn nights!

Thanks to Angus for answering my questions and I hope you'll be intrigued enough to pick up a copy of the book. I don't think you'll regret it!


Wondrous Reads: Hello Angus, thanks for answering my questions! To start with, can you tell us why you chose to set Age of Iron during the Iron Age? 

Angus Watson: I wrote an article on Iron Age hillforts for the Telegraph. There are loads of these gigantic forts – ditches and ramparts dug around the flattened top of a hill - all over southern Britain. The Iron Age was a busy, massive, but totally unknown part of British history despite being relatively recent (just over 2000 years ago). Walking on a hillfort with Iron Age expert Peter Woodward, I asked him if the British Iron Age was like Conan the Barbarian, full of muscle-bound warriors rescuing virgins from snake temples. He said that as far as we know, yes. I decided to write a novel set in the period there and then.

WR: Were you already quite knowledgeable on this period in history or did you have to do a lot of research? If so, how did you approach it? 

AW: Because they didn’t write, and the period was followed by 400 years of Roman occupation which obliterated any oral history, very little known about Britain in the Iron Age. So it’s not that tricky to read pretty much everything that’s been written on it, which I did. It’s also easy, and a joy, to walk up a hillfort like Maiden Castle (Maidun Castle in the book) and look around and wonder what people got up to.

WR: What was your road to publication like? 

AW: It was smooth. I sent the first 20,000 words and a synopsis to 20 agents. Two of them liked it and I chose the excellent Angharad Kowal of Writers House. She suggested some changes and that I finish the book, which I did. Then she got me a three book, international deal with Orbit pretty much straight away. While I think there’s much about Age of Iron that’s original, it is a traditional beginning, middle and end story with varied characters and plenty of suspense, so there was no real reason not to publish it. One thing I learnt constantly pitching article ideas to newspapers as a freelance is that editors like freshness and individuality, but they don’t like you to be too different. I suspect that having had several hundred articles published in newspapers over the previous decade probably helped with convincing Orbit to look at the book, and that I was a good prospect to complete my contract, but I don’t know.

WR: What influenced Age of Iron, with its bloody battles and political intrigue?

AW: I’ve always enjoyed epic stories and historical fiction, so I guess it comes from that, but I’ve always thought that personal relationships and character development are important. So possibly the Narnia books are a big influence, but I don’t know. My favourite childhood books were Watership Down and Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. I reread them often, so perhaps they are my strongest influences.

WR: Dug, Lowa and Spring make an unlikely set of allies. Did you always plan for them to meet and work together, or is it something that developed as you were writing?

AW: They were always going to be important characters, but I didn’t know how they were going to interact. Ragnall was going to play a much larger, more heroic part originally. He does have a big role, and a bigger one in the next two books, but he’s no hero.

WR: I really enjoyed reading the action scenes in Age of Iron, particularly those in the latter half of the book. What were your favourite scenes to write?

AW: I think I prefer dialogue, which may be why the action scenes are good – I found them more difficult, so I tried harder. There are only so many ways to say ‘he hit him with a sword’ and I think I’ve used them all.

WR: Age of Iron is a fantasy featuring small amounts of magic performed by Druids. Will magic feature more heavily in the next book or will it continue to take more of a backseat to the gritty realism? 

AW: It bubbles along in book two, surfacing every now and then, then there’s a massive magical event at the end. Massive. But, generally, gritty realism rules.

WR: I'm assuming it's Dug we see portrayed on the cover of Age of Iron, so who would you like to see represented on the next book cover? Lowa, perhaps? 

AW: I don’t do the covers, and bow to the marketing expertise of Orbit. So it’s Dug on the cover of the next two books, I guess so people who’ve read book one can recognise them. Perhaps if the series does very well, future editions will have covers featuring Lowa, Spring, and other characters who become more prominent in books two and three.

WR: Speaking of Clash of Iron, can you tell us anything about what's in store for Dug, Lowa and Spring? 

AW: Well the Romans are coming of course, so some characters go to Rome to look at them and some travel to Gaul to try and halt Caesar’s bloody progress towards Britain. But maybe, just maybe, there are bigger dangers back home, and there might even be a huge, evil army from Ireland to deal with. ·

WR: After this trilogy is complete, what's next for you? 

AW: I’m going to exercise a bit, get the filing up to date, sort my photos out, then start the next book. Or the next trilogy, which may or may not feature characters from this one and may or may not be set in prehistoric America.


Related links:

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Review: Alfie in the Garden by Debi Gliori

Publisher: Bloomsbury Children's Books
Format: Large hardcover
Released: October 9th, 2014
Rating: 8.5/10

Amazon summary:

Alfie Rabbit is helping his mummy in the garden. His world turns from real to imagined, as a gatefold spread is opened. Now he's in the jungle! He's a lion on the prowl, an elephant spraying water from his trunk, and a little bird flying home to his nest . . . to have a nap with Mummy!


Debi Gliori is fast becoming one of my favourite picture book artists, especially after reading Dragon Loves Penguin, which I absolutely loved and still read regularly. Alfie in the Garden is another excellent addition to her body of work, and is once again illustrated beautifully.

Alfie the bunny rabbit is helping his mum in the garden, and his big imagination turns it into a trip to the jungle. He pretends to be lions and elephants, and he even makes it rain on his froggy friends. He has a huge amount of fun with nothing more than his imagination and his creature friends, and he still has the best day ever! Children will easily relate to Alfie making up stories and visiting jungles, and no doubt there are many more tales to be told!

This book is illustrated in lovely light tones, and it really is so nice to look at. Alfie himself is super cute (of course) and all his garden friends come to life through Gliori's artwork. Alfie in the Garden is a fantastic little book for little readers, especially those of you who want to go on an adventure. Why not go into your garden and take Alfie with you? He'd love to meet your friends!

Review: The Baking Life of Amelie Day by Vanessa Curtis

Publisher: Curious Fox
Format: Paperback / eBook
Released: September 11th, 2014
Rating: 8.5/10

Amazon summary:

Amelie Day loves to bake - cupcakes, biscuits, bread, tarts and muffins - so she's thrilled when she's invited to compete in Britain's Best Teen Baker of the Year. But Amelie has Cystic Fibrosis and some days she can barely breathe. Determined not to let her condition or her mum stop her, Amelie musters all her flour power, but will it be enough to get her there? 


The Baking Life of Amelie Day is yet another wonderful book from Vanessa Curtis, who I still think is one of YA's unsung heroes. Everything she writes resonates with me, whether it be Amelie Day or the beloved Zelah Green, and I only wish she had more recognition!

The Baking Life of Amelie Day may appear to be an easy, light read, but under the bright pink cover it's anything but. Teenager Amelie Day is a keen baker in her spare time, with hopes of taking her talent further. Unfortunately her dreams are hampered by Cystic Fibrosis - an illness she fights with every day of her life. Even though Amelie is really very poorly, she doesn't let it define her or hold her back from living like a normal teen. She has friends, she goes to school when possible and she maintains a positive outlook on life. Her bravery is her most inspiring attribute, and I loved her.

Although this book does deal with darker, harder-hitting subjects, it's also quite funny, thanks to Amelie's sense of humour. There are also real baking recipes interspersed throughout, which I'm sure will delight young bakers everywhere. If I had even an ounce of baking talent I would try them myself, but sadly that isn't my forte!

The Baking Life of Amelie Day is a fantastic book, brimming with emotion and heart. I hope Vanessa Curtis writes more about Amelie Day and her family and friends - I'd love to know how they're all getting on, and find out whether Amelie has made it to the Great British Bake Off studios. Fingers firmly crossed that she has!

Monday, 20 October 2014

Review: Yikes, Santa-Claws! by Pamela Butchart and Sam Lloyd

Publisher: Bloomsbury Children's Books
Format: Large paperback / eBook
Released: October 9th, 2014
Rating: 8/10

Amazon summary:

It was Christmas Eve and the dino-tots were tucked up in bed dreaming of Christmas magic . . . But where were the jolly jingle bells? The hearty "Ho! Ho! Ho!"? And who was this green scaly creature stomping through the snow? YIKES, It's Santa-CLAWS and he's causing chaos. Can ANYONE stop him and save the day? 


Yikes, Santa-Claws! marks the beginning of my 2014 Christmas reading, and what a good way to begin! Pamela Butchart and Sam Lloyd have once again teamed up to tell another story about everyone's favourite dinosaurs, and this time Santa-Claws is the hero of the hour.

Santa-Claws is a bit mischievous and more than a bit naughty, imitating the real Santa Claus on Christmas Eve so he can eat food and open people's presents. He causes a lot of chaos on his little monstrous rampage, and eventually has to help put everything to rights again when the real Santa Claus intervenes!

This book will be so much fun for any little dinos this Christmas and is definitely one to add to any festive reading lists. Santa-Claws looks cute in his Santa hat and has been expertly illustrated by Sam Lloyd, while Pamela Butchart once again crafts a rhyming story that will keep any tiny readers on their toes.

Yikes, Santa-Claws! has already got me in the Christmas spirit, and I'll certainly be making sure there are no dinosaurs roaming around my kitchen on Christmas Eve. These little fellas shouldn't be allowed to slip down people's chimneys for fear of getting in trouble with the real Santa. Let Santa-Claws be a lesson to them all for next year!