Like A Charm

Elle McNicholl

Witches, vampires, trolls, faeries… a feisty neurodivergent heroine and glamour, glamour glamour! Prepare for a magical adventure on the streets (and in the bookshops) of Edinburgh…

It goes without saying I am a huge Elle McNicoll fan! She is one of my favourite children’s authors and A Kind of Spark is without a doubt, one of my favourite books of recent years. I will always remember where I was and how I felt when reading it and couldn’t see how it could be matched. Then Elle gave us Show Us Who You Are and I was a wobbly teary mess! Two words: Chapter Thirteen (if you know, you know!) And it left me thinking, does it really get any better than this…?

Well in short, yes, it does actually. Whilst continuing to represent neurodiversity, Elle has taken her writing in a completely different direction, showing astonishing versatility and depth as an author – is there any end to this woman’s talents?

Like A Charm, the first book in an #OwnVoices duology sees Elle make her fantasy debut. I was completely swept up once again by Elle’s signature compassion and her pursuit of representation for neurodivergent young people. Like Elle, protagonist 12 year old Ramya Knox has a diagnosis of Dyspraxia, a condition that affects motor skills and processing, but she refuses to let this define her.

Ramya’s busy, news broadcaster parents have moved her from London to Edinburgh close to her mother’s family. There’s a huge rift that’s gone on for years between Ramya’s mother and her sisters – Aunt Leanna and Aunt Opal – but a sudden event throws the family back together.

A mysterious stranger appears at a family gathering and tells Ramya she has a gift; she can see through glamour, the magical camouflage that supernatural creatures use to hide. It’s not long before she discovers that the city is full of them. As she is pulled into her family’s world of secrets and spells, she sets out to discover the truth behind The Hidden Folk of Edinburgh, armed with only her late grandfather’s notebook and three words of warning concealed within it’s pages: Beware the Sirens.

Ramya and her cousin Marley are plunged into an adventure that will change everything. There’s a malevolent force at work and she’s about to learn that there are more to her powers than she ever imagined.

You can watch Elle talk about Like A Charm on her YouTube Channel and find out about the book’s exciting launch events here:

A Kind of Spark genuinely made me a better teacher and in general, a better human being in terms of understanding what it’s like to be neurodivergent. As well as being a thrilling fantasy adventure, Like a Charm had exactly the same effect. I cringed at the scenes where Ramya attends her ‘workshop’ Special Needs intervention sessions, which are insensitvely held at lunchtime.

“Support me?” …”I just want them to stop making me feel like an insect under a magnifying glass. Let me use a computer! Stop singling me out in PE! Let me process things in my own time! That’s all I need but oh no. It’s workshops and sheets and meetings and constant frowning and making sure I know I’m different at every opportunity.”

Bravo Elle McNicoll, you’ve done it again!

I am really looking forward to finding out what’s next for Ramya, Marley and her Aunts. The Magic returns in Spring 2023…

Like A Charm is published by Knights Of and is out on the 3rd February.

With thanks to Knights Of and Annabelle Wright at ed Public Relations for giving me the opportunity to read this much anticipated book in advance of publication.

My Brother Ben

Peter Carnavas

I was blown away by Peter Carnavas’ first novel The Elephant and just as in his critically acclaimed debut, Peter’s signature style of gentle story-telling shines through, handling delicate family subjects with the greatest of care and sensitivity.

My Brother Ben is a story of sprawling summer days and the special bond siblings share. I feel so lucky to have my two brothers and the story evoked feelings of nostalgia, taking me back to my own childhood. Endless days of the three of us playing out together in the garden, building dens, riding bikes and hunting for creatures.

Set in Australia (Carnavas’ home) Luke and his big brother Ben spend long hot summer days on the banks of Cabbage Tree Creek. They while away the hours fishing and swimming without a care in the world, spending nights camped out in the back yard, dreaming about owning their own boat someday so they can explore further up stream.

The boys are like chalk and cheese, they couldn’t be more different but their brotherly bond binds them together. Self-assured and popular, Ben doesn’t have to try too hard at anything in life, it would seem he’s good at everything. Things come less easily to quiet Luke who prefers the safety of the shallows and his sketch book whilst his dare-devil brother leaps into the water from The Jumping Tree. He secretly feels inadequate next to his big brother but Ben has a way of lifting him up and making him feel like everything’s going to be ok.

When a local competition to win a canoe is announced, the boys spring into action. Entrants must be under fifteen and make something that celebrates the creek – a painting, photographs, anything that shows it off. Birdwatcher Luke has a talent for sketching and the boys team-up to make a book entitled ‘The Birds of Cabbage Tree Creek.”

But could their unbreakable bond be about to snap? This is the last summer the boys will spend truly together; a last summer spent as little boys before Ben goes off to high school and there are already signs that they are growing apart. Dad upped and left unexpectedly and whilst Ben has continued to talk to him on the phone, Luke feels unable to have a relationship with him.

Aunty Gem is Luke’s confidant. She has opened his eyes to birds and when birdwatching, Luke is able to just ‘be.’ ‘Even on the dark days, birds still sing.’The birds fill the spaces in his mind, keeping stress, worries and thoughts of dad from creeping in.

Soon those sacred summer days are over and for the first time, the boys go their separate ways to school. It’s not long before their closeness starts to feel like a distant memory and when Ben makes a new friend – a girl – Luke feels like he’s losing his brother.

Feeling pushed out, Luke is lonely and despondent. Life has lost its sparkle without Ben in it and Luke mopes around the house not knowing what to do with himself. Ben will do anything to impress his new friend, even if it’s at Luke’s expense and it seems all loyalty to his brother has been forgotten. He’s lost all patience over the situation with dad too and in a heated moment spits ‘Why don’t you just grow up!’ Will things ever be the same again?

Through Ben and Luke, Carnavas has laid bare the strains sibling relationships can encounter and the changes they go through during different life stages. As an eldest sibling, the story made me appreciate the feelings of envy and frustration, of being left behind that younger bothers and sisters may feel.

Once again, Carnavas harnesses the therapeutic power of animals and nature to heal his characters and help young readers navigate challenging issues. It was a real treat discovering the Australian birds that live around the creek and surrounding suburbs. I’m a big softie when it comes to animal rescues and a certain Magpie melted my heart.

This is such a nostalgic story, brimming with the innocence of childhood and the pain of growing up.

My Brother Ben publishes on 7th April.

With thanks to Pushkin Children’s Books for sending me a review copy.

Also by Peter Carnavas…

If you’ve not yet read The Elephant, I highly recommend that you do! Never before have I read a children’s book that explores caregiver depression so insightfully through the eyes of a child. The Elephant personifies depression, gives it a living animal form and makes what can be a very abstract concept for children accessible.

“A big grey Elephant is following Olive’s father around. It leaves with him for work and trails behind him when he comes home, keeping him heavy & sad. Every day, Olive wishes it would go.

When she is asked to bring something old & wonderful to show her class, Olive immediately wants to bring her old bike, but she will need her dad’s help to fix it. Teaming up with her cheery Grandad & best friend Arthur, she sets out to chase the elephant away. “

Most people will readily admit that their mental health has suffered at times during the pandemic. Although his depression was triggered by the death of his wife, I could really identify with Olive’s father’s loss of motivation to do anything. The temptation to find excuses…to say to the kids ‘we’ll do it tomorrow’

We try to keep it together for our kids but the story really made me think about the signals they pick up on and how their lives are touched by caregiver mental health issues.

This little book has such a big heart. It’s so full of hope and shows children recovery is possible. It also highlights how wonderful Grandparents and pets are. And I didn’t see the ending coming at all – so very, very clever..

Circus Maximus: Rivals on the Track

Annalise Gray

A truly EPIC SAGA, The second in the Circus Maximus adventure series is waiting in the holding pens ready to storm the arena and it is sure to set pulses racing!

I absolutely tore through Race to the Death, in fact it was one of my favourite reads of 2021. Ever since, I have been chomping at the bit to return to Rome for more white-knuckle chariot racing and brushes with death with unforgettable heroine, Dido.

Click on the cover to read my review of book 1.

And there’s no let-up in pace this time around. Rivals on the Track is pure, unbridled adrenaline! I could almost hear the roar of the crowd and taste the blood, sweat and sand of the colossal racing arena. There’s secrets, old scores to settle and family honour to fight for. These are monumental tales that in my opinion, would make for legendary motion pictures.

Dido is the only girl ever to have raced to victory at the Circus Maximus, Rome’s greatest sporting arena. Emperor Caligula has put a hefty reward out for the capture of both her and beloved horse Porcellus and they are forced to go into hiding at her Uncle Scorpus’ stables.

But old foes and treacherous villans rear their heads, stopping Dido in her tracks, whilst an estranged family member reaches out to Scorpus for help. A new circus is being built in Thugga and it’s all or nothing: Scorpus and his boys Hanno and Abibaal, ably assisted by Parmenion must race for their family’s honour. Winning is everything: will this spur Dido on to make a daring return to the tracks?

I always think a sign of a superb series is when being reunited with the characters feels like being back with old friends and it certainly felt that way, returning to the stables with Scorpus, Anna, Hanno, Abibaal and Parmenion. In this second instalment, we really get to grips with who they are and their individual struggles. We see Dido wrestle with her identity; who she wants to be versus who society thinks she should be. Determined to follow her dreams in a man’s world, she furiously kicks against typical female stereotypes and refuses to succumb to the expectation that girls of the time were to be married and start a family.

The horses are supremely well-developed characters in the story in their own right, each with their own carefully drawn temprement – Gray’s knowledge of caring for and handling these majestic creatures really shines through. Stallion Porcellus is pivotal to the plot once again, flanked by new addition Jewel, a one-eyed mare so brave she is sure to melt hearts.

Just as the chariots on the circus track, the story takes some breathtaking turns and a sensational plot twist near the end literally made me gasp – I can’t stop thinking about it! Although Dido is a fiercely independent young woman, I enjoyed watching the closeness between her and Parmenion develop. They are fiercely protective of one another and I’m wondering if there’s the possibility of a romance blossoming in the future.

I am desperately hoping that this isn’t the end and we get to take up the reins with Dido once again for another thrilling adventure on horseback.

Circus Maximus: Rivals on the Track stampedes into bookstores on 3rd February.

With thanks to Zephyr Books and Netgalley for approving me to read an advance copy of the book.

Raven Winter

Susanna Bailey

Oh how I have counted down to this!

I absolutely adored Otters’ Moon and Snow Foal by Susanna Bailey, so this was a much anticipated January release I knew would beat the Winter blues and warm my heart. And if that wasn’t enough, part of the story is set in the Yorkshire Dales! It was such a joy to read about Skipton, Grassington and Malham Cove.

Perfect for fans of Gill Lewis, Susanna’s books unpick challenging issues, whilst celebrating the great outdoors and the healing power of nature.

Raven Winter sensitively explores emotional abuse and touches on domestic violence. Billie’s kind and nature loving dad is in prison. Her mum’s new boyfriend has moved in and he is extremely controlling. From the food they eat to who they can see, he checks up on mum all the time. If things don’t go his way, storm clouds gather and what follows is raised voices and razor-sharp silences.

Billie and mum tip-toe around Daniel, walking on eggshells so as not to upset him and there were many times throughout the book I held my breath for Billie. We see Billie wrestle with her emotions, wondering whether to stay and protect mum or run away. So many children live through the horror of domestic and emotional abuse and the book gently urges anyone in Billie’s situation to speak to someone, whether it be a friend, teacher, or another trusted adult.

Dad’s letters suddenly stopped 8 months ago and since then…silence. No visiting orders, no nothing.  Mum says she doesn’t know what’s going on with him, that prison’s changed him. But in her heart, Billie knows otherwise. He made a terrible mistake but she believes in her dad and knows he wouldn’t just give up on her. She’s desperate to find out what’s happened to him but with mum under Daniel’s terrifying hold, how will that be possible?

Frightened and alone, Billie discovers an injured young raven and through caring for him she finds friendship, hope and clues that might bring her closer to her dad. The connection between animals and humans in Susanna’s books is just wonderful and the tenderness, care, trust and understanding that is built.

Raven Winter was such a heartfelt and emotional read perfect for this time of year.

Raven Winter was published by Farshore books on the 6th January.

Click on the cover to read my review of Otters’ Moon, another irresistible book by Susanna Bailey.

The Secret of the Treasure Keepers

A.M.Howell

I am really rather partial to Middle Grade World War 2 stories. There’s just something about the era that never fails to captivate me, perhaps because it’s a time that belonged to my beloved grandparents. The Valley of Lost Secrets, Midnight Guardians and When the Sky Falls are some of my very favourite books and I can now add The Secret of the Treasure Keepers to that hall of fame – it’s pure Middle Grade gold!

It’s 1948. Whilst loitering in the corridors of The British Museum, twelve year old Ruth hears a phone ringing persistently in one of the offices. With most of the museum staff gone home for the day, she has an overwhelming urge to answer it. She tentatively lifts the receiver and what follows is a crackly conversation about long lost treasure. Calling from a telephone box, Mrs Mary Sterne is trying to contact Mr Knight, Curator of British collections.

‘If you can tell Mr Knight that some of the treasure – well what I hope is treasure – is still in the field. The ground is becoming waterlogged and snow is forecast…’

Ruth and her mother Harriet – a museum assistant – trek to the lonely Rook Farm to investigate the discovery of the long-buried treasure. But at the farmhouse, secrets lurk around every corner. Joe, the farmer’s son, is hiding something about the treasure, while Land Girl Audrey watches their every move – not to mention the mysterious and scary ‘Eel Man’ who spies on the farm from his hut in Magpie field.

But before Ruth can find out more, the treasure is stolen… With a storm coming, Ruth must race to uncover the secrets of the treasure keepers before all of their lives are changed forever.

This was just the type of twisty mystery I love! There were so many secrets (and lies) to unearth – believe me, trust nobody! I was really kept on my toes and couldn’t second-guess who was genuine.

Whilst many WW2 novels focus on the experiences of evacuees or the Blitz, The Secret of the Treasure Keepers highlights the aftermath of the war. With a crowded curriculum, we seldom have the time to focus in depth on this period of time and I feel children may not fully appreciate that although the War had ended, the recovery period was a long one. The battlescars are raw, both on the landscape and the people and number of characters we meet are grieving for lost loved-ones.

Life on the farm is extremely hard; rationing is still in force, harsh winters have caused the crops to fail, money is scarce – almost all the characters have motive. But the wartime Keep Calm and Carry On mentality shines on. The blitz spirit, hard graft and ‘make do and mend’ resolve is palpable. Not everything is how it seems, Ruth learns that appearances can be deceptive and important lessons about the importance of looking at things from different perspectives and not taking things (and people) at face value.

I thoroughly enjoyed travelling back in time to be reminded of a simple life without modern complications: no telephones, the smell of a pie baking in the range of a farmhouse kitchen, the relief of being able to light the fire in the evening to stretch out the coal ration…The isolation of Rook Farm, the inclement weather and just the right level of threat makes for an atmospheric setting for this thrilling historical mystery. I must, must, must read more A.M Howell!

Published by Usborne, The Secret of the Treasure Keepers will be released on March 31st.

With thanks to Netgalley and Usborne Publishing for approving me to read an advance of publication.

The Bird Singers

Eve Wersocki Morris

The birds were watching them. The girl could sense their small, bright eyes tracking their every step…

This was a deliciously dark, utterly gripping debut brimming with folklore, a thrilling mystery and dash of horror. The Bird Singers is perfect for fans of recently released Fledgling and Aveline Jones – there’s creepy cottages, flickering lights and things that go bump in the night aplenty!

Although utterly beautiful creatures, there is something mysterious about birds and many species are linked to magic and sorcery. In folklore, supernatural entities take the form of Owls, Blackbirds, Ravens and Crows to assist malevolent forces. The Bird Singers harnesses these dark forces alongside scenes with hints of Alfred Hitchcock-esque, bird-related horror that will make the hairs on the back of your neck prickle!

The whistling had started on their first night. At first, Layah thought it was bird song – a high thin sound which became a melody, rising and falling. And each night, it returned.’

Layah and her younger sister, Izzie have been dragged to a rain-soaked cottage miles from anywhere in the Lake District when strange and terrifying things begin to happen.

First, a peculiar whistling at night and then Layah begins to have visions of a woman with huge yellow eyes and long white hair – could this be linked to murmurings in the village of a shadowed woman that the locals call ‘The Lowesdale Stranger?’

The girls see a poor dead bird in the hedgerow and then one appears on their doorstep, thrown there by a mysterious visitor. And when the girls’ mother starts behaving oddly, Layah is determined to unravel the mysterious events.

Layah is mourning the loss of her dear grandmother in Poland – and can almost hear her Babcia’s voice telling her old myths and fairy tales. And as the holiday takes on a dark twist, Layah begins to wonder if the myths might just be real.

I love a creepy read and this was right up my street!

The Bird Singers will be published by Hodder Children’s Books on 3rd February. With thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for approving me to read an advance copy of the book.

When the War Came Home

Lesley Parr

Although we haven’t yet waved goodbye to 2021, I think I may have found one of my favourite books of 2022! Although technically I read it this year, the official publication date for When the War Came Home is the 6th January 2022 (I was lucky to pick up a copy a few days early in my local Waterstones which is always exciting!)

After reading Lesley’s first novel The Valley of Lost Secrets this was a highly anticipated book for me and I desperately fought the urge to read the early chapters released on Netgalley – didn’t want to spoil it for myself! Honestly, both books feel like and deserve to be future classics. Highly immersive historical novels and incredibly heart-warming they also incorporate a touch of cleverly written mystery.

When the War Came Home is a story so full of hope, determination, love, family and friendship. It utterly captivated me and had me reading into the wee small hours as I couldn’t bear to tear myself away from the idyllic Welsh countryside and the wonderfully warm, beautifully drawn cast of characters and their spirit and resilience.

It’s the twenties. The First World War has ended but as we see throughout the story, it hasn’t gone away and the after-effects live on in the hearts and minds of the people. Twelve year old Natty is forced to moved to a new village after her fiesty and fearless mother Ffion ruffles feathers at the factory and looses her job.

Natty’s mother has arranged for them to stay with Aunty Mary and Uncle Dewi in Ynysfach and Natty is mortified that she’ll be sharing a room, top-and-tailing with her goody-goody, same-age cousin Nerys. But she soon strikes up a remarkable friendship with seventeen year old cousin Huw who has recently returned from the front line in Belgium.

Huw can’t forget the terrible things he’s seen and in heart-breaking scenes, we see him suffer terrible shell shock but Lesley Parr skilfully and delicately explores the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in an a sensitive way for her Middle Grade audience. Natty instantly connects with Huw and he begins to confide in her. With gentle encouragement and patience, she learns that he’s grieving for his comrade and best mate, Rhys who died in the trenches.

Natty meets soldiers Johnny and Charles at the bowling pavilion where they are brought for daily recreation time from Talbot House; a convalescene home for injured servicemen. Young soldier Johnny is suffering from amnesia, brough on by the effects of the war and he can’t remember any details of his life before. His identity bracelet is damaged so The Ministry of Defence have been unable to trace his loved ones.

Natty is such an incredible character. Feeling like a lost soul herself, she instantly recognises the look behind Johnny’s eyes and from the moment she hears his story, she is determined to help him remember. Fearless and direct yet sensitive and caring, she has the ability to gain Johnny’s trust and he begins to open up to her. With her help, odd flashes and fragment of memories seem to appear but will it be enough?

Lesley’s writing style is effortless and the hours just glide by whilst reading her work. She creates characters that are so relatable and warm they instantly feel like family or old friends. I absolutely adore the Welsh back-drop to both Lesley’s books and my inner voice hears soft, lilting Welsh accents when reading.

Running alongside the main plot is a delightful side story about the children’s fight against poverty and campaign for free school meals. Inspired by suffragete Ffion and the formidable woman-of-the-time Emmeline Pankhurst, Natty, Nerys and classmate Owen (whose family struggle to make ends meet) stage a protest outside their school, much to the disgust of their evil tyrant headmaster and snotty local councillor. The innocent of childhood literally shines from every page and the children’s unfaltering belief in themselves is an utter joy to read!

There’s so much more I’m bursting to say but I wouldn’t want to risk spoiling others’ enjoyment of this glorious book. Thank you Lesley for another amazing story that I will cherish and will stay with me for years to come. I really enjoyed solving another anagram mystery too.

P.S. I love that Huddersfield gets a shout-out in the book!

When the War Came Home will be published on the 6th January 2022 by Bloomsbury.

If you haven’t already read The Valley of Lost Secrets, you absolutely must! I realised I didn’t write a post for this – I often find the books I enjoy the most the most difficult to write a review for.

Sometimes it’s hard to put into words just how good a book is to do it justice and The Valley of Lost Secrets is one of those books. Reminiscent of Goodnight Mister Tom and Carrie’s War, it deserves to be a future classic.

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.

You can read a sneak preview of Chapter 1 at the end of When the War Came Home.

The Horror of Dunwick Farm

(The Crooked Oak Mysteries)

Dan Smith

Illustrated by Chris King

Mystery and horror with a sprinkling of sci-fi, The Crooked Oak Mysteries have become a firm favourite of mine. So when the latest fast-paced, novella-length adventure landed on my doormat on Christmas Eve, I couldn’t wait to get stuck in.

I adored Goosebumps as a kid and these are even better! Great for fans of Crater Lake, they’re absolutely gripping with just the right amount of creepy thrills for primary pupils but equally engaging for KS3 pupils (or adults!) too.

The series centre around a group of Year 8 friends Pete, Nancy and Krish and the weird, mysterious and often terrifying situations they get themselves into – in and around the decievingly sleepy town of Crooked Oak. And this latest adventure is no exception – Arachnophobia eat your heart out!

When an unidentified plane crashes in fields next to Dunwick Farm, it quickly becomes clear that it was carrying some unusual cargo. When people in the town suddenly begin to fall ill and animals become distressed, the teens decide to investigate.

The crash site is heavily guarded by shiny black vehicles but strangely, none of the emergency services are in attendance at the scene. The trio hide out in the woods to spy and get a glimpse of some mysterious glass boxes being taken away by equally mysterious men and women in dark suits.

It looks like a cover-up of something pretty huge is afoot, but as they uncover the facts, the trio become entangled in a terrifying web – take a look at Chris King’s action-packed cover illustration for more clues that will make your skin crawl…

I urge readers new to The Crooked Oak Mysteries to invest in the first two books in the series. Each story focuses on a different teen as the lead character and explores their back-story and personality traits. At just over 100 pages each they are books that you won’t be able to help binging in one sitting. If you love the vibes from The Horror of Dunwick Farm, read on to find out more about the previous two instalments…

Something sinister is happening in Crooked Oak & what’s hiding in Harwood Forest…?

A virus, biohazards, a spooky school camp and an abandoned MOD institute make for intriguing and hair-raising reads. I’ve popped a little info for book 1 and 2 of the series below – I need to borrow a KS2 class to read these to!

Ever since the fracking site closed, Nancy’s parents have been acting weird. Their eyes are blank, they won’t eat- it’s like they’re no longer themselves. And now the symptoms are spreading to others as well…

Nancy, Pete and Krish are determined to find out what’s going on. But the deeper they dig, the scarier the mystery gets. A dark prescience is spreading its tendrils across Crooked Oak. Can they stop it before it takes the whole town?

When the 3 friends arrive at Heathland Camp for a school trip, they’re in for an adventure – just not the kind they were expecting.

Nearby sits the abandoned Harwood Institute. The crumbling buildings are out of bounds  but strange screams come from the forest at night. Mystery shrouds the events that took place at the institute during the war, so Pete and his mates make it their mission to find out the truth.

But the forest is hiding a sinister secret and the trio could be in real danger…

I really hope this isn’t the final mystery – I’m sure there’s scope for more strange happenings to occur in Crooked Oak and I really hope Dan Smith treats us to another adventure.

With thanks to Barrington Stoke for my review copy of The Horror of Dunwick Farm, out 6th January.

Let’s Get Festive!

12 Days of Christmas Blog Tour

It’s the most wonderful time of the year & I’m thrilled to be spreading some Christmas cheer in book form. So on the 5th day of Christmas, I introduce you to Sally Nicholls, an author whose following two books are for me, synonymous with the festive season. I invite you to step back in time to Christmas past…

Great Ceasar! Christmas simply is the jolliest time of year! Holly, Ivy, ice-skating… candles & carols… hold onto your hat-pins, buckle up those bustles & tighten those tweed knickerbockers for some rip-roaring Victorian Christmas capers. I’ll wager you a plum pudding that you won’t be able to resist these fun, festive frolics.

This is the second book in the ‘In Time’ series with ‘A Chase in Time’ being the first installment. If you haven’t read the first book, you are brought quickly up to speed about the magical mirror in Aunt Joanna’s house that allows the children to travel back in time. No time (excuse the pun!) Is wasted & you are swiftly pulled into the adventure within the first few pages.

Alex & Ruby Pilgrim have come to spend Christmas at their Aunt Joanna’s bed & breakfast. The imposing Applecott House has been in the Pilgrim family for over 200 years & Alex & Ruby’s grandparents, great parents & other distant relatives (some of whom they met on the previous adventure) lived there.

Whilst trimming up the house for the seasonal guests, Alex & Ruby glance the reflection of a woman in a shawl & big, old-fashioned skirts in the magical mirror.  All of a sudden, the woman reaches forwards and pulls the children through the looking glass & into a glorious Victorian Christmas.

It’s the day before Christmas Eve 1872 & Marian Pilgrim welcomes Alex & Ruby into to her chaotic, rough & ready family. They soon befriend her brood: Harold, Wallace, Aquilla, Noel & dog Bunyan.

Poor lttle wretch cousin Edith has also come to stay, but only until Boxing Day, before Uncle Elijah ships her off to Scotsborough, a cruel boarding school where children are said to be more likely to graduate by the grave than the front door. Can the children show Uncle Elijah the magic of Christmas & persuade him to change his mind?

I say! I thoroughly enjoyed the Victorian colloquial language throughout, especially the insults! For children studying the Victorian era, there’s plenty of Victorian details in the book to bring this period in history to life. Alongside Alex & Ruby, we experience the food (not sure about the kedgeree & kippers!) The clothes, the cold & of course…the toilets!

But at the centre of the Victorian seasonal shenannegins is a heartwarming story of the innocence of childhood. The lengths the children go to, in order to save poor little cousin Edith from being banished to boarding school & bring joy to their grieving Uncle Elijah’s heart make this a festive feel-good read all round.

For a slightly older audience, Sally once again conjures up Christmas magic from a bygone era. The Silent Stars Go By is without a doubt a Christmas Classic; a bittersweet, totally unputdownable period drama of loss, love & longing.

It’s 1919 & Britain is returning to normal after WW1. Seventeen-year-old Margot Allan was a respectable vicar’s daughter & madly in love with her sweet-heart Harry. But when Harry marches off to war, her idylic life is shattered.

Harry is reported Missing in Action from the Western Front & soon after, Margot realises she is expecting his child. Keeping up appearances is vital & there is only one solution she & her family could think of in order to keep their respectability: give up James, her baby son, to be adopted by her parents & brought up as her younger brother.

Now two years later the whole family is gathering at the vicarage for Christmas. It’s heartbreaking for Margot being so close to James, unable to tell him who he really is. But on top of that, Harry is also back in the village. Released from captivity in Germany and recuperated from illness, he’s come home and wants answers. Why has Margot seemingly broken off their engagement and not replied to his letters?

Margot knows she owes him an explanation. But can she really tell him the truth about James?

This was an emotional & beautiful one-sitting read for me, I was utterly enchanted and the 240 pages just flew by effortlessly. I marvelled throughout at the consequences of having a child out of wedlock just over 100 years ago and how far society has come in that time. Harry is such a charismatic character & the tension Nicholls creates between he & Margot is palpable – all the way through the reader is left wondering ‘will they or won’t they!’ The Silent Stars Go By is a poignant period treat this Christmas.

So there we have it, two of my festive favourites that depict Christmas past perfectly.

Do follow along with the tour & visit the other stops for a range of Christmas reads to suit all ages & tastes.

Merry Books-Mas folks!

The Forgotten Crown

A Tales of Truth & Treasures Story

James Haddell

The wait is over! More myth, magic and mystery awaits in the second fast-paced instalment of the highly acclaimed Tales of Truth & Treasures Series.

It’s almost a year to the date that I posted about the amazing first book in the series The Lost Child’s Quest and if you’ve not had a chance to read it yet, you absolutely must!

My review of book 1 can be found here to give you a flavour of where the gripping adventures began…

Being back with Tia, best friend Pasco and the Trevelyan family was like being back with old friends. Six months have passed and Tia has really settled into life with her adoptive family, yet she still yearns for answers about her birth parents.

The time is now at hand for the Hallows of Arthur to be gathered. For unity not division; for love not war; for creation not destruction; for grace not law.”

Tia’s quest to uncover the secrets of her mysterious past and her connection to a magical hoard of treasure is back on. Beginning at the Tower of London and ending among the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey, Tia unearths more than she bargained for.

With the help of bookworm and research-mad Pasco and her larger-than-life sister Meghan she learns more about the circumstances that led to her being left on the doorstep of a children’s home as a baby, and discovers she may be connected to a fascinating medieval treasure that has all but been forgotten.

The trio must make sense of ancient Arthurian Legend to find the answers they seek. With the mystery of an unsolved murder bubbling away, magical objects, maps, crypts and secret tunnels the pages are packed with thrills and shocking revelations.

Twists and turns kept me turning the pages compulsively and James’ skilfull weaving of a tangled web of characters kept me guessing throughout as to their connections and motives. Not everyone is who they seem and a ‘blast from the past’ made me gasp!

Once again, the historical and archaeological angles of the story were really intriguing and had me googling and researching in the way that the characters do in the story. As with book 1, James has included historical notes and chapter-by-chapter activities to inspire young treasure hunters with a thirst for knowledge.

I’m absolutely on the edge of my seat to find out where the next adventure takes Tia and to learn what she discovers about herself next – I’m not sure I can contain the excitement for another whole year!

The Forgotten Crown publishes on the 2nd December. Both books can be bought from the Emira Press website here

Until December 2nd, The Lost Child’s Quest is on offer and both books will be signed if ordered through Emira Press – postage is free!

With thanks to James and Emira Press for the advance copy of this wonderful book and inviting me to be part of the tour.

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