Monday, 29 June 2015

The Lost and the Found by Cat Clarke

                                       The Lost and the Found by Cat Clarke

When six-year-old Laurel Logan was abducted, the only witness was her younger sister. Faith's childhood was dominated by Laurel's disappearance - from her parents' broken marriage and the constant media attention to dealing with so-called friends who only ever wanted to talk about her sister. 

Thirteen years later, a young woman is found in the garden of the Logans' old house, disorientated and clutching the teddy bear Laurel was last seen with. Laurel is home at last, safe and sound. Faith always dreamed of getting her sister back, without ever truly believing it would happen. But a disturbing series of events leaves Faith increasingly isolated and paranoid, and before long she begins to wonder if everything that's lost can be found again...



This (shockingly) is my first Cat Clarke book but certainly won’t be my last. Now I’ve discovered this talented author I get to work my way through her impressive back catalogue and catch up with the rest of the world.

The Lost and the Found isn't a read you can easily forget, not even when you are asleep. It has been quite a while since I dreamt about characters in a book but Faith and Laurel crept into my subconscious every night until I finished reading.

The story focuses on Faith whose sister Laurel was abducted thirteen years ago. Much of Faith’s childhood has been overshadowed by this tragedy and the following years which have been filled with campaigns for her sister’s return and her mother’s obsession with her missing daughter.
As the only witness to the crime much of Faith’s identity is tied up in her role as Laurel’s sister, rather than being allowed to find out who she is in her own right. When the two sisters are reunited things start to get very interesting as Clarke explores sibling rivalry, relationships, family dynamic and asks some scary questions about trust.

Clarke seamlessly pulls us into the story by peeling back the layers of truth until we get to the heart of the novel which will definitely bring tears to your eyes. This balance of emotion and empathy is often very difficult to get right in books and much easier in film but Clarke pulls it off. Throughout the novel the reader is encouraged to stop and consider how we think about (and forget about) missing children and their families once the media spotlight has moved on. Clarke reminds us that for the families of missing children moving on simply isn't an option.

In The Lost and the Found Clarke explores every parent's worst nightmare  - your child being taken -  then follows this up with the dream come true scenario of that child (now a teenager) returning home but all is not as it seems and to say any more would result in spoilers. All you need to know is this is a compelling story in which you find yourself understanding a range of perspectives conveying the different ways we experience and deal with loss and hope.

About the author

Cat was born in Zambia and brought up in Edinburgh and Yorkshire, which has given her an accent that tends to confuse people.

Cat has written non-fiction books about exciting things like cowboys, sharks and pirates, and now writes YA novels. She lives in Edinburgh with her partner, two ninja cats and two decidedly non-ninja cocker spaniels. Cat is represented by Julia Churchill at A.M.Heath.
Cat's website
You can follow Cat on Twitter and Facebook.

About the reviewer
Rhian was born in Swansea but hasn't stayed put anywhere for very long. She trained as a Drama and English teacher and wrote her first novel during her first few years in teaching.
She got her first publishing deal at 26 and went on to write three more novels for Bloomsbury. 
The Boy who drew the Future is her fifth novel and she’s recently finished writing her sixth.  

 She is a National Trust writer in residence, a WoMentoring mentor and a Patron of Reading.

You can follow Rhian on twitter on Twitter and on Facebook.


Friday, 26 June 2015

THE DISAPPEARANCE OF TOM PILE, by Ian Beck. Reviewed by Saviour Pirotta

Title: The Disappearance of Tom Pile
Author: Ian Beck
Publisher: Random House/Corgi
Year: hb 2014/pb 2015

I have to admit that I've always been a big fan of Ian Beck's work. His picture books have a pastel-hued retro quality that is very comforting and were always a hit with the kids I bought them for.

I also loved his Tom Trueheart novels, firmly based in a fairytale world that seemed reassuring in its familairity but innovative at the same time.

His latest series, called The Casebooks of Captain Holloway, is yet another facet of his ouevre. I've just finished the first installment, The Disappearance of Tom Pile, which I devoured in one long sitting. If Stephen King were to write a children's book this would be it. It has all the ingredients of a bestseller and a resonance that will stay with readers long after they have finished the story. Here is a tight plot with engaging characters, set against a well-researched backdrop of World War II.

In 1900 a boy called Tom Pile is out poaching with a local miscreant. They shoot and wound a white stag, a rash action the boy regrets in an instant. He rushes to the wounded beast and seconds later, a dazzling light from the sky whisks him up into the air. He returns to earth what he thinks is a few moments later but is in fact 1940, right in the middle of World War II. In his pocket is a rectangular piece of metal unlike anything that has been manufactured anywhere on the planet...

I can't reveal what happens next. Suffice to say that a whole list of diverse characters gets involved in the mystery.  A corporal with 'special' powers, a charismatic captain who is also an investigator of paranormal phenomena, a German spy and a heroic Polish soldier. Or is the latter a secret spy for the nazis...?

The story is told in the first person by the corporal, a londoner called Jack Carmody, and includes files and transcripts in the style of King's celebrated Carrie. The ending is incredible!

The book also includes a peek into the next adventure of Carmody, Holloway and Tom Pile. It's called The Miraculous Return of Annick Garel. Can't wait to get my mitts on it.

Saviour Pirotta

My next book THE GHOSTS WHO DANCED is out on the 3rd September.

Follow me on twitter @spirotta
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Monday, 22 June 2015

Silver Skin, by Joan Lennon - reviewed by Sue Purkiss

This isn't just a GOOD book - it's a VERY GOOD book. I'm quite certain of this, because I've read it twice. I read it when I first got it, but stupidly didn't write the review of it then; so today I had to remind myself of it - and was soon engrossed, and read it the whole way through again.

The novel concerns a time-traveller, Rab. He is from the future - a future where space is at a premium, but people live contentedly together; in part because something is put in the water to depress their sexual and other urges. They are protected against the harsher realities of life; they feel no pain, for instance, because each person has a sort of technological guardian called a Com, which protects them and sorts out any problems or glitches.

Rab's mother gives him the latest gadget - a Silver Skin - which will enable him to travel into the past and get lots of useful information for his research project. He decides on the 19th century, but a violent storm interferes with navigation, and he finds himself much, much further back - in Skara Brae, at the point where the Stone Age gives way to the Bronze Age.

The story is briefly, but cleverly framed in the 19th century, but the heart of it is in the Stone Age, and in the relationships between Rab, a girl called Cait, and a formidable wise woman called Voy. All these characters are beautifully drawn. Rab and Cait are both, in a sense, outsiders. They are drawn to each other, but - given the circumstances - things are not easy between them. Voy is easy to dislike, but we are shown what her life has been, and how much she misses her man, Gairstay, and so we begin to understand her. The book is suffused with a sense of the place in which it is set; the villagers think that Rab is a selkie, half-man, half-seal, and the sea is a constant presence.

The writing is lovely. Here's one little example. This is the 19th century; there is a storm, and Mrs Trevelyan is unable to sleep: "She watched the little flame thrashing on the candle wick and waited for the morning." Thrashing is not a word I would have thought of using, yet it paints the picture of the flickering flame far more effectively than guttering, or indeed flickering - both of which would have been more obvious choices. And the sentence is just beautifully balanced; it works so well.

The earth is entering a cooler phase, and the people are afraid. Without the sun, they cannot perform the ceremonies that enable the dead to depart in peace; they are aware that things are changing, and that the future may be worse than the present - which, of course, has resonances for us. Is the solution which has enabled humanity to survive into Rab's age a viable one for us - would we be prepared to accept the sacrifices it entails?

This really is a book which satisfies on a great many levels. It would be great to study in class - if the curriculum allows!


Monday, 15 June 2015

THE RIVER SINGERS by Tom Moorhouse; reviewed by Gillian Philip

Tom Moorhouse works as an ecologist at the Zoology Department of Oxford University. I didn't know that till the end of this book, but in hindsight – well, of course that makes sense. There are many enchantments in this book, but the author's love for, and knowledge of, his subject is one of the standouts.

Animal fantasy can't help but be anthropomorphic; it's part of the deal. And despite the usual negative connotations of the word, it's not a bad thing. The fun lies in engaging a human reader by merging human emotions, outlooks and motivations with animal ones; the trick is avoiding sentimentality. Good animal fantasy, paradoxically, keeps it real. Tom Moorhouse pulls it off – and how.

As the story begins, young water vole Sylvan – who until now has known only his home burrow and the company of his mother, brother and two sisters – has only just been introduced to the big wide world. We see this new world as he does: a place of excitement, beauty and constant peril. The vole's-eye view of the narrative is consistent and utterly convincing, and the descriptive passages are beautiful. There's real magic in the song of the Great River, Sinethis – part natural environment, part life-spirit and part god. But the everyday pleasures and dangers of life as a small and vulnerable herbivore are about to be eclipsed by a new and alien horror – one that will shatter the young voles' world.

Sylvan himself is a terrific hero, adventurous and determined. It's the lot of voles to be a "sacrifice": at the mercy of the very river that sustains their lives, and victims of a multitude of predators. But when a mink destroys their lives, and it falls to young Sylvan to lead his family to a new home, he does it with a dogged courage and loyalty that would make any young reader fall in love with him (not to mention this older one). The young voles' adventures are heart-stopping, and the pace is lickety-split, but never at the cost of vivid portrayals of either the countryside or the characters.

The four vole siblings are distinct characters, and their interactions and relationships are a delight. There's plenty of banter and bickering that would be familiar to human brothers and sisters, but there's also real, deep affection and protectiveness. The supporting cast are no less entertainingly drawn: Fodur the rat is a star as soon as he appears. And the adult female water voles – the ones who establish territory, and hang grimly onto it in the face of not just predators but bitchy encroaching neighbours – are a hoot. Mistresses Valera, Lily and Marjoram are formidable matriarchs, with more a touch of the Mapp & Lucias. They're quite as terrifying as any heron, fox or king rat, but they're far funnier.

A lovely addition, and an integral part of the story, are the illustrations by Simon Mendez. The text is generously interspersed with drawings that evoke all the excitement, atmosphere and beauty of the riverbank, marsh and forest.

This is a story of family, courage and survival: of fighting on and maintaining hope in the face of despair. It has all the humanity a young reader could ask for, but told in the form and being and voice of water voles.  I was with these courageous little herbivores all the way, and I know a whole lot more about them now than I did before. Whether child or adult: if you hanker nostalgically for the immersive animal adventure of Watership Down, you'll be overjoyed to discover The River Singers

The River Singers by Tom Moorhouse; OUP £6.99


Sunday, 14 June 2015

Silent Saturday by Helen Grant - Reviewed by Tamsyn Murray

The bells are not ringing in seven year old Veerle de Keyser's Flemish village. It's Silent Saturday, the only day of the year when the church bells don't ring, and she's running away from an argument at home. She creeps into the church next door and is dared to climb the tower by schoolmate Kris Verstraeten. From there, they see the most horrific sight - a blood-drenched killer, exulting over the body of a child. Veerle starts screaming.

Fast forward ten years and Veerle doesn't think about that day much. She's too busy trying to cope with her anxiety-ridden mother, whose obsession with everything Veerle does is both oppressive and suffocating. So when she meets Kris again, and he invites her to join a secret group called the Koekoeken, she doesn't need much tempting. Exploring unoccupied properties gives her the kind of rush she hasn't felt for years and the fact that it's illegal only raises the thrill factor. But there's a killer on the loose: someone is stalking the Koekoeken, picking them off one by one. He is The Hunter and it's only a matter of time before he turns his attention to Veerle and Kris...

Silent Saturday is the first in the Forbidden Spaces trilogy, aimed at teens (and adults - oh yes, adults) aged 14+. It had me hooked from the very start - Helen Grant's prose is beautifully spare, not a word wasted but still deliciously elegant and descriptive. For example, when she first introduces Kris, she writes:

'The local telephone directory was full of Verstraetens but everyone knew who you meant if you talked about those ones...'

which sums his black sheep background up perfectly. He's exactly the kind of character I love: mysterious, brooding, daring and flawed. He brings out the best and the worst in Veerle, with whom I had huge sympathy and liked very much too, as she struggles against her mother's tightening cocoon. Kris and Veerle make some very bad choices but they are always logical, always plausible, even if I was willing them not to do some of the things they do. And the killer made my skin crawl - a truly terrifying monster.

I originally wanted to review all three books in the trilogy - The Demons of Ghent and Urban Legends are both just as thrilling and make the kind of breathtaking journey I wanted to begin again the moment I'd finished. But I couldn't review all three without spoiling the first and so I've settle on Silent Saturday as a taste for the other books. They are all equally brilliant. I especially enjoyed knowing that there were two more books to come - quite often, I don't want to reach the end of a story because I don't want my time with those characters to end. With Silent Saturday, I found myself gobbling up the pages, desperate to know what happened next, with the delicious safety net of knowing there was more to come. I read Urban Legends with a kind of sadness, unwilling to say goodbye to its characters. But the moment I picked up Silent Saturday to write this review I was hooked again, so I know I'll be revisiting them, admiring the unusual settings that made me want to visit Belgium and no doubt shivering with fear all over again. And of course I'll be recommending these books to everyone over the age of fourteen - although I don't like to stipulate an age normally, there are a lot of exquisitely described but by their very nature quite graphic crimes in the books which I feel makes them unsuitable for younger teens.

The Forbidden Spaces trilogy is published by Random House.

Tamsyn Murray writes for all age ranges, from picture books to teens. Her latest book is Completely Cassidy: Star Reporter and her website is


Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Troll and the Oliver by Adam Stower. Reviewed by Damian Harvey

I love this simple but delightful twist on the tale of a young boy and a hungry troll, both written and illustrated by Adam Stower. The cover grabbed me first - and I appreciate that judgement shouldn't be made there but I just couldn't help it. Mischievous Troll peering through the cutaway cover as 'the Oliver' skips merrily along left me wanting more.

On opening the cover we see that Troll had sneaked a little bit closer to 'the Oliver' - his intent already clear to even the most inattentive reader or listener. After being casually introduced to the two 'This is the Troll. And this is an Oliver.' The fun really starts as Troll tries his best to capture 'the Oliver' and eat him for his tea.

Unfortunately for Troll, this isn't as easy as he expects as 'the Oliver' just won't keep still... instead the pesky Oliver foils him at every turn. So much so that the reader ends up feeling a little sorry for Troll as he finally gives up and sadly returns home to his hole for a 'dinner of twigs and stones'.

The next morning, as Oliver sets out with his little basket, things just aren't the same anymore. Everything is quiet on his journey home from the shops and as he starts to bake a cake he starts to feel very pleased with himself as he finally realises that the Troll has given up... 'OLIVER HAS WON!'

This isn't the end of the tale though and readers are in for another delightful surprise and a couple of twists before the story comes to a satisfying ending. This picture book is lots of fun to read and is one that will be a joy to share many times over.

Damian Harvey is the author of around 80 books for Primary School Children
You can follow him on Twitter @damianjharvey
And visit his website


Saturday, 6 June 2015

Children at the Battle of Waterloo by Julia Tugendhat review by Lynda Waterhouse

In June it will be two hundred years since the Battle of Waterloo and there are lots of books being published on the subject ranging from monster sized biographies of Napoleon Bonaparte or Wellington, to endless blow by blow accounts of the fighting and its aftermath.
One of the most compact and compelling of these publications is Julia Tugendhat’s book Children at the Battle of Waterloo. This book was originally published in 1979 and Julia has produced a revised version.
The book is an hour by hour account of the battle from the viewpoint of the children and young adults who were caught up in the fighting. The children range from fifteen year old Lord William Lennox, two German brothers who unwittingly find themselves on the battlefield, a French drummer boy, seventeen year old William Leeke who is facing battle for the first time and six year old Mary Adwicke who with her mother is a camp follower.
‘They put a skinny chicken in the camp kettle to boil. Mary was a skilled scavenger and had caught it near the farmhouse during the afternoon. After they had eaten, they stretched out together on the bloodstained ground and went to sleep, untroubled by the sounds of suffering around them.’
Julia writes with a clear and compassionate voice. She gives a detailed account of the battle strategy whilst at the same time reminding us of the human cost.
The relaunch of the book is timely not only because of the anniversary of one particular battle but because there are still some fifteen year olds who are finding themselves drawn into conflict.

ISBN 978-0-9570707-1-4
Produced by The Choir Press

Illustrated by Robin Tronson