Category Archives: Reviews

Skunk and Badger

No one wants a skunk.
 
They are unwelcome on front stoops. They should not linger in Important Rock Rooms. Skunks should never, ever be allowed to move in. But Skunk is Badger’s new roommate, and there is nothing Badger can do about it.
 
When Skunk plows into Badger’s life, everything Badger knows is upended. Tails are flipped. The wrong animal is sprayed. And why-oh-why are there so many chickens?

Skunk and Badger is a wonderful take by two titans of the children’s book world: Amy Timberlake wielded the words and Jon Klassen created the illustrations. I will not lie, I am a fan of both, but Jon Klassen is one of my all-time top five artists and when I was offered a chance at an early copy I leapt at it!

I was not disappointed! This is a gentle, hilarious tale of a budding friendship, misadventure, chickens and underscored by the virtues of tolerance and understanding,

Skunk and Badger is timeless! Although aimed at a young audience this tale will find fans in readers of all ages.

Written by Amy Timberlake, illustrated by Jon Klassen and published by Algonquin Young Readers. It is out on September 15 – I urge you to pick up a copy (or borrow a copy from your local library and then pick up your own copy to keep, read and reread).

Moonchild: Voyage of the Lost and Found

Twelve year old Amira has only ever known a life at sea with her sea-witch mothers. So when their ship is wrecked in a great storm, Amira is delighted to have an opportunity to explore land – accompanied by her best friend Namur – a jinn in cat form. Amira soon finds a boy who has a jinn like her, and learns that their spirit companions are connected to the mysterious storm that gets stronger each day.

When Namur goes missing Amira discovers she has to visit a magical place; a place where lost things can be found. But will Amira also discover her own destiny, and find out what it truly means to be a Moonchild?

The Sahar Peninsula is a place that lies just beyond the horizon. If you’ve ever tried to reach the horizon, you’ll realize it isn’t the easiest to get to. No maps will take you there, nor can it be charted by gazing up at the stars, or down at a compass.

If you’re wondering who I am, and why I’m telling you this story, you’ll have to wait for quite some time to find out. It’s a secret, you understand. And I need to know that you’re the right person to keep it.

Are you?

I’m not so sure just yet.

Now that we’ve introduced ourselves, shall we begin?

MOONCHILD
MOONCHILD: VOYAGE OF THE LOST AND FOUND, illustration by Rachael Dean


Illustrated by Rachael Dean

MOONCHILD: VOYAGE OF THE LOST AND FOUND is Aisha Bushby’s second book, and I had high hopes after A POCKETFUL OF STARS was such a uniquely brilliant read (watch her read some of APOS here). It is completely different, but just as satisfying! It is about adventure and science and magic and family and relationships, with a narrator occasionally bringing you out of the action to remind you that every adventure is a story, but that ‘stories never start at the beginning and they never ever finish at the end’. And, my new favourite piece of advice, from Jamila (one of Amira’s mothers), is:

All great adventures begin with a nap.

Amira is well cared for, by her two mothers, who encourage her magic (she can smell emotions) but know that it wouldn’t be looked upon kindly by others. As they spend most of their time at sea it isn’t a problem and Amira is very sheltered, but on visiting a souk while they’re docked for repairs after a storm, she starts to uncover some secrets and mysteries related to where she came from…she also makes a friend, and the developing relationship really builds the characters. The occasional gorgeous black and white illustration (and two stunning double page spreads) highlights the personality of the characters and builds up the tension in the nerve-wracking parts (there are some *very* nerve-wracking parts). The young friends problem solve together and I’m so excited that there are more adventures to come.

After having interviewed Aisha around the launch of her debut, I jumped at the chance to read this new novel and ask her another round of questions!

Before writing these questions I read a Netgalley eProof rather than a physical copy. I prefer to read hardcopy because, unless I really concentrate, I accidentally skim read a screen & miss things! Which prompts me to ask whether you have a format preference when you’re reading?

Both! I like to read on a screen before bed (so I can lie down and have the light off), and a book during the day.

A POCKETFUL OF STARS was a fantasy grounded in reality, whereas this is a completely new world. Did you find that gave you more freedom to tell the story or did it make it trickier to structure it?

A bit of both! On the one hand, in MOONCHILD I was able to bend/rewrite my own rules to solve plot holes, which I couldn’t do so much with STARS. On the other hand, I had to spend a lot more time creating a world (including the rules I had planned to bend) from scratch. But I really enjoyed the challenge!

I love the mix of science & magic, was Leo a scientist as soon as he came to you or did it evolve as you thought about the rules of magic?

My stories change dramatically from draft to draft, so it’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment I made that choice. but I knew I wanted science to frame my magical rules, to keep them in check.

The Stormbird and its influence is based on the second law of ecology: everything must go somewhere. Once I figured this out, it helped the rest of the plot unfold, and inspired a few other details.

Leo was the natural choice for the role of scientist in the group, because Amira’s skills lie in seafaring, and I needed him to bring something to the table, too. I also see the certainty of science as a comfort to him, given his background.

Last time I interviewed you I asked about your planned school visits. Did talking to school children about A POCKETFUL OF STARS alter your approach to your second novel?

I was really nervous when A POCKETFUL OF STARS was released. It’s not exactly a light-hearted read, but speaking to children, and seeing how they related to the book and how deeply they think about things was inspiring.

It gave me the confidence to write about subjects like emotions and mental health for that audience, (albeit from a more adventure-driven perspective) knowing that they’re receptive to it.

Have you done any remote events in recent months or are you crossing your fingers for in-person events again ASAP?

I’ve done a few, and I really enjoy them! As much as I miss in-person events, I don’t plan on attending them unless I know it’s going to be completely safe. But I think we have the opportunity to explore more remote options that provide a greater level of accessibility for everyone involved.

I will always ask: What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to?

I am very lucky to be reading My Life As A Cat by Carlie Sorosiak, which I would recommend to everyone, but especially people who (like me) love cats. Her writing is sublime.

I didn’t know there was more to come, was that your intention when you started to write or did you realise that your characters had more stories to tell as you were writing?

Because the structure is loosely inspired by The Arabian Nights, with short stories and a narrator, it allowed me to explore each character and their desires fully.

I wrote the first book with the intention that it could work as a standalone, but I also imagined other books told from different character perspectives.

Do you know how long a series it will be? Is it taking up all your writing time or have you got other projects you’re thinking about too?

I’m currently editing the second MOONCHILD book… And that’s all I’ll say for now. 😀

I’m always thinking of other projects, but it’s good to have a few sit there and see which end up sticking. That’s actually how MOONCHILD came about – it was a book I wasn’t supposed to write, but one that wouldn’t go away.

Aisha Bushby, the author of MOONCHILD: VOYAGE OF THE LOST AND FOUND

Thank you to Egmont for inviting me to be part of the tour, and to Aisha for answering my questions. This first books is on sale from 6th August 2020, and I’m really looking forward to reading their further adventures soon!

Cinderella is Dead

It’s 200 years since Cinderella found her prince … but the fairytale is over.
Sophia knows the story though, off by heart. Because every girl has to recite it daily, from when she’s tiny until the night she’s sent to the royal ball for choosing. And every girl knows that she has only one chance. For the lives of those not chosen by a man at the ball … are forfeit.
But Sophia doesn’t want to be chosen. She doesn’t want to go to the ball at all. Not when she’s afraid the girl she loves might be chosen too.
Pushed beyond breaking by a society that denies everything she is, Sophia sets out on a journey that will remake her world … into one where SHE gets to choose.

Bloomsbury
cover art by Fernanda Suarez

A thrilling and original twist on the Cinderella story – breaking stereotypes of race, gender and sexuality to create a brand-new YA fairytale and a heroine for our times

The friendships and relationships (both family and romantic) are flawed and interesting, with queer romances and an entirely Black cast. I thought the way that Sophia and Erin each approach their illegal love for one another rang true, with Erin becoming distant and mean to avoid feeling anything that made life difficult, even if it meant an unhappy life, while Sophia simply couldn’t bear that outcome. This society is built around the fairy tale “Happy Ending”, but how much does the version that Sophia and her friends know differ from the actual history of Cinderella and her Prince Charming? Some people believe less than others and only go along with it “because it is the way it is done”, but it is dangerous to obviously disagree with the status quo. Sophia is dreading the life proscribed for her by the story, but things take a turn for the worse and she is forced on the run…only to discover that the lies are even bigger than she thought. The violence encouraged by the patriarchal society is unflinching and she has good reason to fear for their futures! It is difficult to talk about my favourite things without spoilers, but I’ll just say I absolutely loved the way the role of the Fairy Godmother played out.

CINDERELLA IS DEAD is really clever in the way it really brings home to readers that accounts of events are written by the victors, and that doesn’t necessarily mean they were the ‘goodies’ and the losers were the ‘baddies’, by unpicking the history that society uses to impose rules.

I asked the author, Kalynn Bayron, a few questions!

You talk about the legacy of stories and how they shape who we become in your introductory letter for CINDERELLA IS DEAD. What books do you think made the biggest mark on you growing up? I love fairy tales. I had a big book of collected works when I was a kid that had older versions of Snow White, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, etc. As a teenager, I discovered Toni Morrison and Zora Neale Hurston whose work has affected not only my writing but the entirety of my life. I read a lot of Anne Rice as a teenager, too, which is where my love of vampires comes from.

What prompted you to choose to rework the tale of Cinderella over any other fairy tale? Cinderella is a pretty popular tale, it’s highly visible. That’s Cinderella’s castle at Disneyworld, kids dress up as her for Halloween—she’s everywhere. I wanted to retell a story that was instantly recognizable and deconstruct it in a way that centered the kinds of people who are nowhere to be found in the story itself, mainly Black, queer people. So, I wrote this story that explores not only how fairy tales have the power to personally affect who we become, but also allows the reader to see this
fairy tale world through the eyes of a young woman who is actively harmed by the societal norms the fairy tale itself perpetuates. It’s a continuation of the Cinderella story and a kind of reworking of that already established framework that makes it accessible to people like me, while also being wrapped in this dangerous, magical, mystery.

Who was your favourite character to write? I love Sophia and I loved writing her, but Constance was also really fun to write. She’s funny, very smart, and she wears her heart right on her sleeve. She is willing to lay down her life for Sophia almost as soon as they meet, and I think that speaks to the kind of person she is. For her, it’s all or nothing. She’s very intense and I had a so much fun writing her.

The real world parallels of those in power rewriting history to maintain systems of oppression are significant & thought provoking – what would you like YA readers to take away from that? It’s important to ask questions and it’s okay to change your mind. The people in this fictional world and readers in the real world have an opportunity, every day, to do just that. Some people take advantage of the chance to learn and grow and change their behaviors, others do not. Sometimes it feels easier to do the thing that has always been done. Real change requires introspection and a willingness to admit that you were wrong or that something you once believed was wrong. That’s really hard for some people to do, but it’s the only way to start the hard work of unlearning and telling the entire truth when it comes to our history. It’s the only way forward.

With your debut publishing in such unusual times, have you had much of a chance to interact with teen readers or get any feedback? The good thing is that I get a chance to interact with teen readers on my social media all the time. I get emails and DMs from teens who are really looking forward to Cinderella Is Dead and it makes me incredibly happy! I’m writing for teens, so their support is very important to me and I take any opportunity I can to interact with them. So many lives have been lost to COVID-19 and the measures we, as individuals, are taking to keep ourselves and our communities safe continue to be important and necessary. I look forward to the day where I get to meet my teen readers face to face, but for now, keep the emails and messages coming! I really enjoy them!

Do you write to a soundtrack or prefer peace & quiet? I love writing to soundtracks. The Penny Dreadful soundtrack is perfect for creepy, atmospheric writing sessions. The music from The House with the Clock in its Walls is great, too! I also love musical theatre so Sweeney Todd, Hadestown, and Wicked OBC recordings are also great to write to. Video game soundtracks are also great to write to, especially if I’m in a headspace where lyrics are too much of a distraction. Assassin’s Creed 2 and Final Fantasy 7 are my go-to’s.

What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to? I’m always reading a few different books at a time. Right now, it’s A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow, which is a brilliant modern fantasy centering Black girls, one of whom is a Siren. If you love magical creatures in a modern setting, Black Girl Magic, and a powerful story about friendship and family, you’ll love this book. I’m also re-reading Rory Power’s Wilder Girls, and I’d recommend this book to anyone who loves a story that makes you simultaneously excited and terrified to turn the page. The creeping sense of dread she manages to infuse in her work is spellbinding.

The worst question I know, but I’m going to ask it anyway: what are you working on at the moment? I actually love this question! I’m working on lots of things that I can’t really talk about, so I have to get real creative in how I discuss them and it makes me have to think outside the box. I have a book coming out next year. It’s a modern YA fantasy that is equal parts The Secret Garden and Little Shop of Horrors with a sprinkle of Hadestown. I’m also finishing up a draft of a paranormal Middle Grade that is like an age-appropriate-Watchmen(TV) meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It has been so much fun to write!

Kalynn Bayron, the author of CINDERELLA IS DEAD

I’m very grateful to Bloomsbury for giving me the opportunity to ask Kalynn a few questions, and to Kalynn for taking the time to give such great answers

I read the book on NetGalley, but it is out in the UK on 6th August!

Dream Team

Meet the Dream Team! They turn nightmares into incredible adventures in this fast-paced first book in the series written and illustrated by the award-winning Tom Percival.
Erika’s had a bad day and struggles with her emotions, especially her temper. But going to sleep upset means bad dreams. She finds herself stranded in the Dreamscape along with a mob of hungry Heebie Jeebies – and to make matters worse, she’s being hunted by a terrifying Angermare! Only the Dream Team can help save Erika now and help her overcome her worries and get home, or will she be trapped forever?Attack of the Heebie Jeebies is the launch title in this fun and engaging two-colour illustrated series, exploring anxiety in in children through action and adventure. With echoes of Dreamworks’s Inside Out and The Incredibles Dream Team is a great way to introduce children to managing their anger, especially if they have a bad case of the heebie-jeebies!

Attack of the Heebie Jeebies

The second book in the fun and adventure-packed Dream Team series, Erika returns to tackle some more nightmares in the dreamscape, in this case the jitters!
Erika’s friend Kris is HILARIOUS. She thinks he should perform in their
school’s talent show, but he’s far too nervous.
And when Erika gets a call from the Dream Team to help on a mission, she meets another girl who is struggling with confidence. Chanda’s dream is being attacked by the jitters and nothing seems to be going right.
Try as they might, the team can’t get control of her dream – until Erika realizes that there is a connection between Chanda and Kris. Can she help Chanda to find some confidence before the jitters take over completely?
The perfect book for children to learn how to overcome anxiety and nervousness in a digestible and entertaining way.

A Case of the Jitters

Tom Percival’s Big Bright Feelings picturebooks for Bloomsbury are brilliant introductions to emotions for younger children, and in his new series for Macmillan Children’s he tackles the big subject of anxiety and related emotions (starting the series with with bad tempers and self confidence) but in short, highly illustrated chapter books for a middle grade audience (age 5+). Some dark stuff happens in bad dreams (just wait until you meet the Bone Cobble in A Case of the Jitters!) but I just love the humour in these books that balances it out nicely. There is properly witty banter between the characters, pitched perfectly for the younger reader but also funny to an older child (and any grownups reading with them), and the characters are great fun. His dreamscapes are really inventive but I also like that Erika’s real-world relationships are developed. I think these books would be great to read with a child to see what conversations they spark around feelings and worries, but they are also just great fun reads…and make sure you read the acknowledgements, heehee!

TEACHERS/SCHOOL LIBRARIANS: They would be wonderful to read with a class, and here are some lesson plans (with links to audio of the first two chapters) to whet your appetite!

Thank you to Macmillan Kids for inviting me to be part of the tour, and sending review copies of these two wonderful titles! I’m really looking forward to seeing what happens next in the series.

When Stars are Scattered

Omar and his brother Hassan, two Somali boys, have spent most of their lives in Dadaab, a refugee camp in Kenya. Separated from their mother, they are looked after by a friendly stranger. Life in the camp isn’t always easy and the hunger is constant . . . but Omar devotes everything to taking care of his young brother and pursuing his education.

Faber

This is set to be one of my favourite graphic novels of all time. You will laugh, cry, rage, and cheer many times over the course of the book, a study in empathy, as Omar and Hassan experience the ups and downs of life in a refugee camp with the dream of resettling in America hanging over their heads. It is based on Omar Mohamed’s account of real experiences of growing up, so obviously the relationships are real, but they are brought off the page so beautifully and in so few words, through the skillful work of Victoria Jamieson (brilliantly coloured by Iman Geddy).

Narrated by Omar, we see his perspective of the environment and people, and how it changes when he was feeling hopeful or down. Bad things do happen to them, as well as good things, and Omar talks them through and shares his feelings with the reader. One panel that really struck me was after Omar had been talking to a friend who’s family had been chosen to be resettled, he tries so hard to be positive all the time but can’t help but think “It’s not fair”. He tells us:

…Of course, thinking like this doesn’t do you any good. Somalis even have a word for it. BUFIS. It means the intense longing to be resettled. It’s almost like your mind is already living somewhere else, while your body is stuck in a refugee camp…

We first meet Omar and his brother Hassan once they have already been living in the camp for a long time (have a read of the first chapter in the extract) and the way their journey to the camp is told to us, as it recounted in Omar’s UN interview for potential resettlement, is really powerful. We follow them for years, until Omar is 18, and I was particularly moved by the relationship with Fatuma, how they came to be together, and how Omar realised more and more with age how lucky they all were to have one another.

Enjoy this exclusive extract of WHEN THE STARS ARE SCATTERED

It does have a happy and hopeful ending for Omar and Hassan, but doesn’t let you forget the thousands more people still stuck in the limbo of refugee camps. I think this is essential reading for, well, everyone aged 8+ frankly.

Huge thanks to Faber for sending me a copy for review and inviting me to join the blog tour. WHEN STARS ARE SCATTERD is out in the UK now!

Comic Classics: Great Expectations

OLD books get NEW doodles – it’s the classics as you’ve never seen them before!A hilarious new series that brings the classics to life with illustrations by Jack Noel. Perfect for fans of Tom Gates, Wimpy Kid and Dav Pilkey. And Charles Dickens.

WHAT THE DICKENS?

Ten-year-old Pip gets the fright of his life when he meets an escaped convict in a spooky graveyard. And that’s just the beginning of an adventure that will lead him to a house full of secrets, a strange old lady and a journey to the big city to seek his fortune. But Pip is in for a BIG surprise . . .

Join Pip in a rip-roaring story of family secrets, scary grannies and a REALLY annoying big sister in COMIC CLASSICS: GREAT EXPECTATIONS by Charles Dickens and Jack Noel.

Egmont
Comic Classics: Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens and Jack Noel

Do we need the classics? Normally I’d say “not really” and go back to reading an outstanding recently published novel that is actually written for children and not just foisted upon them by the education system <ahem>…but there are a few exceptions. I have never read a Dickens novel except for A Chrismas Carol (though I mostly remember it because of The Muppets) and would happily have never changed that state of affairs until this book crossed my path! Carefully abridged by Liz Bankes, this version is enlivened by loads of doodles by Jack Noel. I flew through it and really enjoyed the way these simple pictures highlighted the story and often explained what the text meant without patronising young readers.

I asked Jack Noel a few questions about it all (unfortunately Charles was unavailable for comment):

What inspired you to create this series?

I love books with pictures. We’re living in a golden age of illustrated young fiction (eg. Tom Gates, Claude, Mr Gum, Barry Loser, Reeves & McIntyre, Lyttle Lies etc). I would have loved them all when I was eight or ten or twenty or thirty and I love them now. I wanted to have a go myself. I was curious to see how the style would work when applied to something a little different. It turns out: quite well!

Did you read Great Expectations as a child?

We read Great Expectations at school. I thought we’d read the whole thing but I now know that my teacher just selected the best bits (the graveyard! the cake! the fire!). Also I think my mum made me watch the David Lean movie one wet Sunday afternoon. Though it might have been Kathy Come Home. It was some old black and white film, anyway. I thought it was quite boring.

There are two more coming soon, Treasure Island & The Hound of the Baskervilles, how many more are in the pipeline? How have you chosen the titles?

We just choose the most fun ones we can think of. Treasure Island is great because it’s got all the original pirate ideas like the maps and a parrot that says ‘pieces of eight’. I’m also hoping that the publisher will pay for me to sail to the Caribbean on a promotional tour. The Hound of the Baskervilles is the best Sherlock Holmes story and I’ve been into him ever since I saw The Great Mouse Detective in 1986, about a mouse version of Sherlock Holmes.

If you could add doodles to *any* book, what would you choose?

I feel like any book would be better with doodles. Hilary Mantel books are wonderful but a couple of doodle Thomas Cromwells wouldn’t go amiss. I can’t draw horses very well though, so no Black Beauty.

What kind of author events do you enjoy doing?

I like author events with lots of live drawing and collaboration. I aim for 65% fun, 30% inspiring, 5% educational. If the kids are shouting, that’s a good event. Even if it is because they’re angry.

What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to?

I just started the latest Sam Wu book by  Katie and Kevin Tsang. It’s about a boy who isn’t afraid of Zombies. It’s packed with great pictures by Nathan Reed. 

What, other than Comic Classics, are you working on?

I’ve got a novel coming out in August called MY HEADTEACHER IS AN EVIL GENIUS. Not to spoil it or anything, but it’s about a headteacher who is an evil genius. It’s got loads of pictures and jokes and stuff, you’d like it.

Comic Classics: Great Expectations is out now. For a sneak peek, have a look here on the Egmont website. Thanks Egmont for sending me a review copy!

The National Shelf Service

CILIP started the National Shelf Service on Monday 6th April, a daily recommendation of a book available to borrow electronically through local libraries, live at 11am. Hopefully you’ve been watching these great videos from YLG colleagues, but if you haven’t seen any yet then why not start with mine! I’m the only one (so far) that has talked about a book that isn’t aimed at teenagers or young adults, not really living up to the TeenLibrarian name, but as I say: this book can be read and loved by anyone of any age…

The illustrations on the banners are by Fiona Lumbers, from the book Luna Loves Library Day written by Joseph Coelho

The Austen Girls

Would she ever find a real-life husband? Would she even find a partner to dance with at tonight’s ball? She just didn’t know.
Anna Austen has always been told she must marry rich. Her future depends upon it. While her dear cousin Fanny has a little more choice, she too is under pressure to find a suitor.
But how can either girl know what she wants? Is finding love even an
option? The only person who seems to have answers is their Aunt Jane. She has never married. In fact, she’s perfectly happy, so surely being single can’t be such a bad thing?
The time will come for each of the Austen girls to become the heroines of
their own stories. Will they follow in Jane’s footsteps?
In this witty, sparkling novel of choices, popular historian LUCY WORSLEY brings alive the delightful life of Jane Austen as you’ve never seen it before.

Bloomsbury

This is Lucy’s fourth historical novel for Bloomsbury Children’s Books but the first (to my shame) I’ve read, I definitely want to pick up the others now though. It reads like an Austen novel, while managing to keep the story moving at a pace for younger modern teens to keep engaged. The setting is very evocative with real historical touches, I’m a little bit disappointed it isn’t an entirely true story! She very kindly answered some questions for TeenLibrarian:

What prompted you to discover Jane Austen led such an interesting life?

Well, on the face of it, Jane Austen lived quite a boring life. No one knew that she was a famous novelist, because she kept it secret. She never got married or did wild things, and she died quite young. And yet I think her life was terribly interesting, because she was so brave to decide that she wasn’t going to marry a rich man. (She did accept one proposal, but broke it off the next morning.) Instead, she became one of the very few professional female novelists of Georgian times. I did a lot of research about her real life, and I discovered that she gave out agony advice to her two young nieces as they grew up and had to decide themselves who they were going to marry. So I took the three characters from history, and spun a story around them! It’s only in my imagination that Jane Austen becomes a detective, or the rather lovely word that the Georgians used: a ‘thief-taker’.

Which is most satisfying: writing for TV, writing non-fiction, or writing fiction?

What I really like is a mix. Writing for TV is a very collaborative effort – a whole team works on it very closely together. Writing non-fiction is very slow and painstaking, you have to get all the facts right. By comparison, writing fiction is like flying! All you have to think about is the story. It’s nice to be able to switch between all three. (There’s another kind of writing that I do as well: writing very clear blocks of text for guidebooks or exhibitions or webpages in my work as a museum curator at Hampton Court Palace. That’s another challenge all of its own.)

When you started writing fiction did you originally intend it to be for a teen audience or did it evolve that way?

I decided around the age of 11 that I wanted to be a historian, and one of the reasons that I made that decision was through reading historical novels. So I wanted to write books that maybe … just possibly … the person who’s going to be doing my job and who’s going to be the curator at Hampton Court Palace in twenty years’ time might enjoy.

If you were given unlimited time & resources to research & write about a different person or event, who/what would you choose?

I would love to write about Agatha Christie, the detective story writer.

What is your favourite kind of book event to take part in?

I like going to a school or a festival with my box of props and dressing up outfits, and acting out silly scenes from history.

What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to?

I’m always reading about five different books for different research projects, and usually they wouldn’t be of any interest to anyone else apart from the five people who are researching in that tiny corner of history. At the moment, though, I have been burning my way through many Agatha Christies – a nice relaxing thing to read when we’re all feeling anxious!

Lucy Worsley is, by day, Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces, the independent charity that looks after the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace State Apartments, the Banqueting House in Whitehall, and Kew Palace in Kew Gardens. By night, she is a writer and presenter.

Thank you Bloomsbury for sending me a proof copy, and Lucy for answering my questions!

The Austen Girls is out TODAY!

Agent Zaiba Investigates – extract!

Determined to be the world’s greatest detective, Zaiba is always on the lookout for a crime to solve. She knows everything there is to know about running an investigation – in theory…

At her cousin’s Mehndi party, Zaiba gets her first challenge: to discover the identity of the VIP staying at the same hotel. With the help of her best friend Poppy and brother Ali, Zaiba puts her sleuthing skills to the test. And when the celebrity’s precious dog disappears, along with its priceless diamond collar, it’s up to the trio to save the day!

Stripes
Agent Zaiba Investigates: The Missing Diamonds, cover & internal illustration by Daniela Sosa

Agent Zaiba Investigates: The Missing Diamonds is the first in a new #UKMG series by Annabelle Sami.

Zaiba is a fantastic protagonist with a great team behind her. I love that her aunt is so involved in the story, even though the children basically work alone it is clear that they have plenty of adult support, the grownups aren’t disposed of to give the kids more space but instead the adults give them sensible freedoms (that they definitely make the most of) and actually listen to them! The plot races along, with funny and thoughtful dialogue and a well imagined setting – it is just great fun. The background of a Mehndi party gives us loads of food references and a chance to get to know the whole family, excellent scene setting with just the right level of description without interrupting the flow of the action.

There are a number of full page black and white illustrations in the book to highlight key events, as well as lots of smaller vignettes and chapter headings throughout. Daniela Sosa has done a brilliant job of really bringing the characters to life and keeping the readers eyes on the page.

I’m loving the resurgence in detective kids, and even more loving the diversity of all these new sleuths, Zaiba herself is British Pakistani. I can’t wait for book two, I want there to be as many Zaiba stories as there are about Poirot…and I can easily envisage a CBBC TV series of Agent Zaiba!

Annabelle Sami, author of the Agent Zaiba Investigates series

To give you a taste of what the book looks like (gorgeous), and how thrilling it is (very), I’ve been given an extract to share with you. There’s also a game to play at the end…

Download an extract and game here

Huge thanks to Charlie from Little Tiger for sending me a review copy.

Agent Zaiba Investigates: The Missing Diamonds is out now!

The Sky is Mine – Blog Tour!

In a house adept at sweeping problems under the carpet, seventeen-year old Izzy feels silenced. As her safety grows uncertain, Izzy knows three things for sure. She knows not to tell her mother that Jacob Mansfield has been threatening to spread those kinds of photos around college. She knows to quiet the grief that she’s been abandoned by her best friend Grace. And, seeing her mother conceal the truth of her stepdad’s control, Izzy also knows not to mention how her heart splinters and her stomach churns whenever he enters a room.

When the flimsy fabric of their life starts to unravel, Izzy and her mum must find their way out of the silence and use the power in their voices to rediscover their worth.

For fans of Sara Barnard, Louise O’Neill and E. Lockhart, The Sky is Mine is a powerful exploration of rape culture and domestic abuse, and a moving story of women learning to love themselves enough to demand to be heard.

Rock the Boat

The Sky Is Mine is a stunning debut, firmly in the YA+ bracket with its unflinching discussions of (TW:) rape, coercive behaviour, domestic violence and abuse. It is absolutely terrifying in places but funny in others, an extremely emotional read, the characters are so well written and real that every decision is convincing and doesn’t feel contrived. The way it discusses toxic masculinity and, frankly, how awful teen boys can be without realising they (or their friends) are doing something wrong, is something that could spark brilliantly useful conversations – I hope as many boys read it as girls.

Izzy, the protagonist, has a passion for Desert Island Discs, a radio programme during which the guest chooses 8 ‘discs’ and explains why those songs are important to them, so on this blog tour Amy has done the same!

Finish the F**king Book ~ Stella Duffy

There’s no rule that your discs have to musical. They just have to be special. And this is certainly that. I met Stella Duffy about twenty years ago when, having read her fantasically different Singling Out the Couples, I went on an Arvon writing retreat on which she her wife Shelley were tutors. Only they weren’t just tutors. They gave so much of themselves that when I returned home and people asked me how the course had been, there was really only one way to describe it: life-changing. And Stella continues to be life-changing for me. I messaged her on my 36th birthday promising to write every day. This vow was rooted in the hope that in promising to fulfil my goal to someone I wouldn’t want to let down, I would be more likely to achieve what I’d so far failed to do: write a novel. In that same message, I joked about wishing I’d captured a video of her telling me, a couple of years previously, that it’s all well and good having lots of ideas, hopes and dreams, but the only way to make those come to fruition was to sit down and finish the f**king book. If I had that video, I said, I’d watch it as a daily reminder of what was required. I didn’t expect her to respond. But she did. Not just with an email but with a video – exactly like the one I wished I’d made – of her telling me to “finish the f**king book”. That video changed my life. I watched it daily and, as such, I sat down, did what Stella told me and finished the fucking book. A book that got me an agent that got me one step closer to a deal. That’s the thing with Stella, her you-can-do-this cheerleading bouys and ripples with consequences of life-changing proportions. I want to be like Stella. Generous. Bolstering. Kind. Listening to this would be a reminder of the importance of perseverance and, so too, the brilliance of people. People like Stella. #BeMoreStella

Amy Beashel
Amy Beashel, author of The Sky is Mine

THE SKY IS MINE is published by Rock the Boat, an imprint of Oneworld Publications, and out now!

Thankyou to the publishers for a review copy