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!

Prince Lestat: Anne Rice Q&A + UK Giveaway!

The vampire world is in crisis – their kind have been proliferating out of control and, thanks to technologies undreamed of in previous centuries, they can communicate as never before. Roused from their earth-bound slumber, ancient ones are in thrall to the Voice: which commands that they burn fledgling vampires in cities from Paris to Mumbai, Hong Kong to Kyoto and San Francisco. Immolations, huge massacres, have commenced all over the world.
Who – or what – is the Voice? What does it desire, and why?
There is only one vampire, only one blood drinker, truly known to the entire world of the Undead. Will the dazzling hero-wanderer, the dangerous rebel-outlaw Lestat heed the call to unite the Children of Darkness as they face this new twilight?

On October 30th, Anne Rice is back with Prince Lestat, her first Vampire Chronicles book in fifteen years. I've somehow never read any books in this series, but I've been meaning to for a long time - I think it's about time I sorted that out and read Interview With the Vampire!

To celebrate the upcoming publication of Prince Lestat, Random House have provided me with part of a Q+A with Anne, which I can share with you all here. I think you'll agree it's quite fascinating to hear about Anne Rice and her Vampire Chronicles series!

Q+A With Anne Rice

What was the experience of writing/publishing Interview with the Vampire?
Writing the novel was intense. I sensed I'd made some sort of personal breakthrough in talking about my deepest concerns, but it was quite unexpected. I'd been trying to write pedestrian realism like so many other struggling writers, and then when I tried fantasy – a vampire telling his story – my entire emotional world and spiritual world were suddenly available to me. The publication was marvelously exciting, of course. This was a ‘first novel’ yet it made headlines. The hardcover – as it turned out – was not a great success, but the paperback launched the novel on a never-ending journey. I was grateful for all of it. The novel was controversial, as no one had seen anything quite like ‘an interview with a vampire’ before, and that added to the excitement.

What inspired you to return to Lestat after more than a decade? 

New ideas. New visions. New possibilities. At the time I retired from the Chronicles (2003) I really had no more to say with Lestat. I associated the Chronicles with some of the most painful parts of my life. But as the years passed, I kept thinking of Lestat, wondering what he would think about this or that cultural development, what he might have to say about this or that new film or book. He was alive for me, out there, in exile. Finally I went back and reread all of the books, and he was talking to me again, coming out of exile, out of his ‘depression’, wanting to live again. It was glorious.

Why do you think vampires continue to be such a popular phenomenon? What has changed in the genre while you’ve been writing? 

I'm not surprised at all at the popularity of the vampire. The concept is so rich – the vampire is a metaphor for the outsider, the outcast, the artist, the addict, the alienated one. So of course writers would come along and do new and interesting things with such a rich concept. The vampire craze today is author driven. But the movement amongst some very popular authors is towards domesticating the vampire – the very opposite of my approach. We're seeing the vampire as the boy next door, the guy next to you in biology class in high school, or the handsome man you meet at the nearby tavern or bar. It's quite interesting. My vampires are mythic, tragic, larger than life. I'm kind of delighted by all the variations.

What’s next for you, and for Lestat? 

Blood Paradise is the tentative title of the next book, in which the story of Prince Lestat continues. There are unresolved issues, things that must be dealt with. And new surprises. I see Prince Lestat as the first volume of a reboot for the Chronicles. I'm deeply immersed in writing the next book already. Lestat is a character deeply rooted in my heart and mind. He cannot be consciously coerced by me to speak. And once he does start speaking, well, I cannot shut him up. He's in control again. He has a lot to say. And then my imagination is aflame with stories about all those who love and expect things of Lestat. He's much in demand amongst the world's immortals.


Here's Anne talking about Prince Lestat:



Think Jam and Random House are kindly offering one (1) signed copy of Prince Lestat and one (1) unsigned copy of Memnoch the Devil to one lucky reader. Please read the rules below before filling in the form, and good luck!

Rules and info:
  • Open to UK residents only.
  • Closing date: October 31st, 2014.
  • One entry per person.
  • The book will be sent by the publisher, not by me.

Prince Lestat, Anne Rice’s new novel in the Vampire Chronicles series, will be published on 30th October (Chatto & Windus). The Wolves of Midwinter will be published simultaneously in paperback (Arrow), eBooks also available. Visit annerice.com for more information.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

In My Mailbox #229: New Books This Week

In My Mailbox idea from Kristi @ The Story Siren, and any links take you to Amazon. Click images for a bigger picture!

Thanks so much to all publishers/authors who sent me lovely books to review - I'm very excited!

For review:

  • Alien The Archive: The Ultimate Guide to the Classic Movies

  •  The Monster Hunter by Kit Cox
  • Winter Wonderland by Various Authors 

  • Excess All Areas by Sue Richmond (Not actually sure what this is but it looks interesting!)
  • Confessions of a Murder Suspect by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro
  • Confessions: The Private School Murders by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro
  • Confessions: The Paris Mysteries by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro

  • The Naturals: Killer Instinct by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
  • A Thousand Pieces Of You by Claudia Gray
  • The Bear by Claire Cameron
  • Sammy Feral's Diaries of Weird: Vampire Attack by Eleanor Hawken
  • Horns by Joe Hill

  •  The Imaginary by A. F. Harrold
  • The Chateau on the Lake by Charlotte Betts
  • The Shiver Stone by Sharon Tregenza
  • It's Not Me, It's You by Mhairi McFarlane (UK proof/ARC)
  • The Dance of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin

  • Happy Hooves Oh! Oh! Oh! by A. Bogie (UK proof/ARC)
  • The City Stained Red by Sam Sykes
  • The Bane Chronicles by Cassie Clare, SRB and Maureen Johnson (!!)
  • Deadly Pope to Pole Diaries by Steve Backshall
  • The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig (UK proof/ARC)



  • A Vision of Fire by Gillian Anderson and Jeff Rovin (signed and numbered edition!)
  • The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe

Happy reading!

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Review: Sammy Feral's Diaries of Weird - Dragon Gold by Eleanor Hawken

Publisher: Quercus
Format: Paperback / eBook
Released: June 5th, 2014
Rating: 8/10

Amazon summary:

Sammy couldn't be more excited when two pandas arrive at Feral Zoo all the way from China. But when he finds a mysterious golden egg hidden inside the panda crate, he knows things are about to get WEIRD - again. Soon the egg hatches, and Sammy comes face to face with a tiny golden dragon. And, it seems to think he's its dad! Sammy needs answers, and he needs them fast - who sent the dragon, and why? It's not long before Sammy realises he's in more danger than he could ever imagine... 


Sammy Feral's Diaries of Weird is one of my favourite MG series out there so I was excited to read the latest book, Dragon Gold. Not only do I love dragons, but I also love Sammy Feral and all the weird animals at his family's zoo. Not that I'd want to meet any of them in real life, of course. Well, except maybe a dragon...

In Dragon Gold, two pandas arrive at the zoo with an unexpected object in their crate: a dragon egg! Despite all efforts to the contrary, the egg hatches (thank you, fire-breathing turtle) and Sammy now has a tiny pet dragon who thinks he's her mummy. It's not long before people come looking for Georgina the dragon, and Sammy realises they're all in a bit more danger than he thought. His life is always weird, but this is VERY weird!

This book is a fantastic, fast-paced addition to the Sammy Feral series. It has all the usual characters, as well as some new ones who shake things up and eat all the zoo's bamboo. Georgina is my favourite from this book, particularly because she's so cute. And a dragon. What better combination is there?

Eleanor Hawken writes some very funny characters and has a brilliant imagination I can only dream of having. The creatures featured in the book are all weird and unusual, and I love them all. I also like his sheer loyalty and determination to protect them all, even when his life is on the line. Now that's what a cryptozoologist should be like! Here's to many more adventures from Sammy Feral and the gang - I hope unicorns are next!

Friday, 17 October 2014

Author Interview: J.D. Oswald (Dreamwalker)

In a small village, miles from the great cities of the Twin Kingdoms, a young boy called Errol tries to find his way in the world. He's an outsider - he looks different from other children and has never known his father. No one, not even himself, has any knowledge of his true lineage. Deep in the forest, Benfro, the young male dragon begins his training in the subtle arts. Like his mother, Morgwm the Green, he is destined to be a great Mage. No one could imagine that the future of all life in the Twin Kingdoms rests in the hands of these two unlikely heroes. But it is a destiny that will change the lives of boy and dragon forever...

Dreamwalker is the first book in The Ballad of Sir Benfro series, and is one of my favourite books of 2014. J.D. Oswald also writes adult crime novels under the name James Oswald, and I hear they're rather popular!

Many thanks to James for answering my questions about Dreamwalker, and I hope you guys will check it out. It's so, so good!


Wondrous Reads: Hi James and thanks very much for taking the time to answer my questions! I recently read and loved Dreamwalker and was wondering if you could tell me more about its road to publication, from self-published eBook to traditional print?

James Oswald: Hi Jenny. It’s a pleasure!

Benfro and the world of Dreamwalker have been with me for a very long time - I first came up with the idea around about 2001/2002 and wrote a couple of short stories exploring the character before deciding to embark on an epic fantasy series. I was heavily influenced by Robin Hobb and Katherine Kerr at the time I started writing, but I wanted to do something different with dragons. The problem with that was publishers didn’t like my take on them - they didn’t like them talking, for one thing, and the idea of them as downtrodden creatures didn’t seem to ring true.

I wrote the first three books almost back to back. Perhaps surprisingly, The Rose Cord was the first one, not Dreamwalker. Having started the story with what is now the final chapter of the first book, I realised that there was far too much unexplained to drop into the rest of the story as I went along. I began writing a prologue to The Rose Cord and ended up, 125,000 words later, with Dreamwalker.

The idea to self-publish came a long time later, after the first two Inspector McLean books had been shortlisted for a major UK crime writing prize but still failed to find a publisher. I’d recently taken over running the family farm and after almost twenty years of trying to get published was just about to give it all up and do a proper job. I knew very little about ebooks, but a friend had recently self-published some novellas of his on the kindle and done very well with them. He persuaded me to have a go with my crime books. As I had two written, and a third almost finished, I decided to give the first away for free in the hope people would like it enough to pay for the second one. I thought I might sell a thousand books in the first year, but ended up shifting 350,000 in eight months!

On the back of that success, I put the three Benfro books out, promising the fourth soon. They didn’t do anything like as well as the crime books, but for self-published epic fantasy they were very well received. Penguin bought the crime series and the first one came out in May last year (2013) to great success. The last fifteen months have been a roller coaster ride, bringing out another three crime books in quick succession, with two of them making the Sunday Times top ten bestseller list. My editor for the crime books asked to see the Benfro series after I mentioned it to him in passing. He read all three in a weekend and came back almost immediately with a very good offer for publishing the whole series. It’s hard to believe but at the beginning of 2012 I had no publisher, no agent and little hope; now it’s not even two years later and I have one of the best agents in the UK, three separate contracts with one of the largest publishers in the world, books being translated into over a dozen foreign languages and seven titles in print!

WR: Have you always been interested in dragons and fantasy, or was this series a completely new venture for you? 

JO: I’ve always loved dragons and fantasy. Dreamwalker and The Rose Cord were both written before I ever embarked on writing crime fiction. I came into writing through comics - my first ever paid for story was in 2000AD, and that medium has always influenced my novel writing. I’d say crime writing was the completely new venture, and the fantasy was what I always wanted to write.

WR: Where do the unusual dragon names, like Benfro and Morgwm, originate from?

JO: The idea for Benfro came from a conversation with my better half, Barbara. We were living in Wales at the time, both working in Agricultural research, and decided it would be a good idea to try and learn the language a bit. One evening class we were doing the county names in Welsh, and Pembrokeshire is Sir Benfro. Sir (which has an accent over the i that I can’t reproduce on my computer) means ‘shire’. Benfro is a contraction of ‘Pen’ and ‘Fro’ and means ‘the end of the land’ or ‘the head of the land’. Anyone who has ever seen Pembrokeshire on a map, or better yet been there, will know how apt a name it is. Barbara said to me that she thought Sir Benfro would make a perfect name for a dragon, and that sparked off the whole idea of the character in my head.

Having used Benfro, I then plundered much of the language for other names and words - a lot easier than making up something from scratch. In my initial short stories, the baddies were all sheep, and they were named after various sheep breeds. My good friend Stuart MacBride persuaded me that no one would take seriously a book with evil talking sheep in it, so I changed them to humans but kept many of the names. So Beulah of the Speckled Face, Clun, Lleyn, Llanwennog etc., are all names of sheep breeds.

WR: I really love all the historical extracts included at the beginning of each chapter of the books. Where did the basis for all this initially come from, and would you ever expand on it in a companion novel or extra content? 

JO: I stole the idea from Robin Hobb. I love her Farseer books (and her dragon books too - her take on them is very different from the classical mythology as well), and each chapter of them begins with an extract from a journal or similar. Eventually we find out that these are written by Fitz himself. My take was slightly different, and was an attempt to build the world of Gwlad (another Welsh word, meaning the land, or the country!) more quickly than having it discovered through the narrative would allow. There are extracts from works of men, and others from dragon books, and the two quite often don’t agree.

WR: The Penguin paperback covers for all three books so far are brilliant. What are your thoughts on their design and how they represent your story? 

JO: I was absolutely thrilled and delighted when I first saw proofs for the covers. Fantasy books covers, and particularly epic fantasy book covers, can be very hit and miss. These I think are definitely hit. An enormous amount of thought has gone into them, and the designer has either read the books very closely or been extremely well briefed, as they each encapsulate the story arc of their book perfectly. I’ve been very lucky indeed with my Penguin book covers for both series.

The marketing department at Penguin have also made a fabulous short animated video advertisement for the series, which you can see on my website. It’s very ‘Game of Thrones’!

WR: Do you have a complete outline written for the final two books in the series, and do you already know how it will all end? 

JO: I’m not much of a plotter, but I do have an overall idea of where the story will go. I had a definite ending when I first began writing the series over ten years ago, but another fantasy series that came out just after I’d finished writing Dreamwalker did something very similar. I’ve not yet made up my mind whether to keep my original ending or change it. I guess time will tell.

WR: What challenges have you experienced when writing two very different series of books (crime and fantasy) at the same time? 

JO: I tend to write one then the other, so it’s not as if I’m juggling Benfro and Tony McLean in my head at the same time. That said, it’s been a long time since I wrote The Golden Cage and I’ve written four McLean books since then, as well as a couple of other novels that may or may not ever see the light of day. Coming back to the story will be an interesting exercise after such a long break. On the other hand, I have been through major edits on all three books for the paperback release, so the story is fresh in my mind now.

I also made myself a database, back when Benfro started, and listed all the characters, places and historical occurrences as I made them up. I would like to go back in time to the early 00’s and buy myself a round of drinks for doing that. I’m not normally that well organised. It’s been invaluable.

WR: I'm sure you get asked this a lot, but when can fans of Sir Benfro expect the fourth and fifth books to hit our shelves? 

JO: I’ve got about half of book four written, and the finished manuscript should be handed in by the end of this year (hopefully). Book two comes out in paperback in November 2014, book three in early 2015, which means book four should be out in the second half of next year. Book five will hopefully follow in early 2016. A long time for fans who picked up the self-published editions in 2012 to wait, I know, but circumstances beyond my control (the runaway success of the Tony McLean novels) somewhat mucked up my writing schedule. I’m sure the wait will be worth it!


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