Wednesday, 2 September 2015

ALL MINE! by Zehra Hicks, reviewed by Pippa Goodhart

Having recently had a Cornish holiday during which large eager seagulls were very keen to share our lunch pasties, bright bold picture book ‘All Mine!’ caught my eye. 

I think this is a wonderful book.  The story is short and simple, but the pictures fizz with characterful energy, movement and humour. 

Mouse is about to tuck into his sandwich lunch when – woosh! – the greedy seagull swoops down to steal it and claim that it’s ‘All mine!’  Seagull gets ticked off by mouse who tells him that it’s rude to snatch.  We then get a wonderful comic- strip episode of the mouse trying to find more lunch, but stalked by the ‘gull who steals it all, even when he’s clearly told that if only he was polite Mouse would share with him.  Seagull doesn’t learn from being told.  It’s only a good scare that finally sees him off … leaving Mouse to share his huge cake with his politer, mousey, friends.

This is a story about learning to share; something very pertinent to young children, but served-up in a way that is anything but preachy.  They will recognise the truths in the story, and come to their own conclusions about any rights and wrongs it shows.

So, this is a fun picture book for all, particularly for summertime.  But it also offers an opportunity for teachers or parents to discuss issues of sharing and bullying with children, and demonstrates interesting and easily doable ways to combine media to make your own pictures.  I now want to get some thick poster paint to ‘ice’ a photograph of a cake, and sprinkle hundreds and thousands to stick into that paint icing!  Maybe make my own simple shape-on-a-stick fox mask too?  Come to think of it, I could see this making a relatively simple, funny and telling little play for any primary school class tasked with putting on an assembly soon after the summer holidays.
Pippa Goodhart                                         Image result for all mine! zehra hicks image


Saturday, 29 August 2015


Jenny Alexander’s first book about the creative life and writing was Writing In The House of Dreams, and you’ll find an interesting analysis of that title here, on Susan Price's Nennius Blog.  First of all, before we begin, I am a real fan of books that are a pleasure to hold and read. Both Jenny Alexander’s books have beautiful covers, as well spaced text and font and  a visual appeal that gives you confidence in the contents. To my mind, this attention shows that the author cares as much (or more) about the experience of her readers as about the matter of “getting the book buzzing out there”: a reflection, I believe, of Jenny’s own writing values.  

Jenny's second book - almost a companion title - has a rather different focus: “When A Writer Isn’t Writing makes clear its intentions in the strapline: How to Beat Your Blocks, Be Published and Find Your Flow.

 This small volume offers an unusual and personal approach. While there are many books offering weighty information on the craft of writing or the production of blockbusters and “brands”, this book focuses on the inner processes of writing and the problems that arise when the writer and their writing practice aren't quite in balance. In addition, throughout the book, Jenny offers a range of helpful writing or practical activities from her popular creative writing workshops and courses.

Jenny writes in such an easy, friendly and re-assuring style that it’s tempting, if you are a galumphing reader like me, to speed through the pages. I’d advise reading this book with a pencil in hand, underlining sentences that resonate, and suggestions that require deeper pondering. My personal copy now has several such passages. Jenny's chapters and advice are reinforced by the thoughts of established writers such as Linda Newbery, Adele Geras, Michelle Lovric and more.

The book has a straightforward structure: the first four chapters cover topics such as When You Can’t Get Started, When You Can’t Keep Going and When You Get Completely Stuck. Jenny addresses these topics in a sympathetic, instructive and thoughtful way. She suggests ways of developing confidence through regular writing practice, examines the different fears that hold back the blocked writer and considers the relationships between writing goals and personal values. 

 Jenny Alexander is a great advocate of patience with the ebbs and flows of one’s writing energies - the seasons of inspiration, productivity and also the fallow time. As she explains, “Creativity is a natural process, a breathing in and out, a rhythm of receptive and productive time, of surrender and control.”

The next three chapters look at insistent insecurities about the work itself, the blocks that sometimes halt work while it's in progress:  When you’re Putting Off Redrafting stresses the need to be patient with the process and pattern of writing; When You’re Tempted to Skip Micro-Editing encourages the reader to pay the right level of attention to their detail of their work – i.e. don’t skip! - while When You’re Pondering Publication is a firm, level-headed section on the current state of publishing, including the pitfalls and the benefits of independent publishing.

The final section - When you Find Your Flow – looks at the balance between the personal and the craft, and at what is required to work resiliently as a writer.  I feel this book may be especially useful to anyone unable to find a local writer’s group or attend a creative writing course, as there are suggestions of websites, blogs and useful books for writers. 

The book is based on Jenny’s own extensive studies in psychology . psychotherapy and creative work, and as she says “Writing isn’t just about words on the page – it’s a different way of being. It changes your experience of the world and it deepens your experience of yourself.”  If you can relate to those words, and you're in difficulties, When A Writer Isn’t Writing may be for you. 

Jenny Alexander's blog can be found here.


Reviewer: Penny Dolan


Wednesday, 26 August 2015

THE SHIVER STONE by Sharon Tregenza. Reviewed by Saviour Pirotta

Author: Sharon Tregenza
Publisher: Firefly Press
Publication date:

I was seduced into buying Sharon Tregenza's The Shiver Stone by its bold blue cover. I'm a sucker for beach scenes on book covers. They remind of my own childhood visits to the sea, and of my favourite Enid Blyton adventures, especially The Secret Island and Five on a Treasure Island.

The Shiver Stone has the same breathless, exciting pacing as Blyton's best. But whereas Blyton's characters tend to be smug and middle-class, here is a cast that reads true to modern life and that young 21st century readers will empathise with.

Set in a fictional Welsh coast town, the story is part mystery, part social comment. Carys is furious with her mum and dad who have split up, with mum jetting off abroad to help patients with HIV and Dad falling in love with a new woman. When she tries to uncover the identity of an artist who is creating secret beach art, Carys sets off a chain of events that not only leads to a humdinger of an adventure but also to big time changes for all the members of the family. And an adorable dog!

Tregenza has an easy, punchy writing style that makes this book a perfect read summer or winter. Grab a copy!

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Tuesday, 25 August 2015

The Big Lie by Julie Mayhew reviewed by Rhian Ivory



The Big Lie by Julie Mayhew


“I am a good girl. It is my most defining feature. And that’s the truth.”

What if the Nazis had won WWII? What if one girl could win it back? If only for herself…

Buckinghamshire 2014. Jessika Keller is one of the Third Reich’s shining lights. She is an exemplary member of the Bund Deutscher Mädel, a future figure skating champion and the apple of her father’s eye. But when her neighbour and lifelong friend Clementine challenges the regime, Jessika begins to understand the frightening reality of the society in which she lives.

The Big Lie is an alt-history thriller which asks readers to examine their own attitudes to feminism, sexuality and revolution.



One of the central themes in The Big Lie is of course the concept of lying and the lies we all tell, big and small, black or white. Mayhew repeatedly plays with the notion of lying by drawing characters who ‘leave out something that they didn’t realise was really very crucial to everyone else. That isn’t a lie. But it can be as bad as telling a lie.’

The protagonist Jessika Keller is a good girl who is driven by a desperate desire to please. Jess feels a huge responsibility to please her father and the patriarchy that dominates her world. When Jess’s feelings for her female friends start to change she knows this is something that must be kept from her father, she tries to reassure herself that this isn’t a lie, it is just leaving out something.

‘A very small victory. I knew something he didn’t.’

And these feelings are universal to all readers and ones we can identify with, that sensation of power, of knowledge and having secrets from your parents. Even though she has secrets Jess tries very hard to be outwardly normal, obeying the rules and making sure that those around her do the same, no matter what the cost to her friendship with Clementine.

‘Then Clementine said: ‘It’s hard for you…But at least I know what I am.’

Although Jess is living in what most readers would view as a nightmare scenario, to her it is normal life. Maintaining a sense of normality, being the very model of a perfect girl drives Jess on even when she knows that the biggest lie of all is the one she’s telling herself.

‘I had proved that I was normal, and special…I mustn’t let people get close to me. Only bad came of it.’

And there is no room in Jess’s life for questions about sexuality, feelings and desires because that’s not what she’s there for, her purpose and role have been clearly defined since birth. Jess knows how a good girl should think and speak and act because she’s been told so by the people in charge, the men who run The Bund Deutscher Mädel the organization set up to recruit teenage girls to adore and obey Hitler. Jess and the other recruits are shaped and molded into the future baby makers of Nazi Germany. Because of her upbringing Jess knows exactly the path she should take but when her best friend Clementine starts steering her off course Jess finds herself questioning not just her desires but her whole world.

Is it possible that everything she knows has been built on one big lie? Clementine’s revolution pushes Jess into a dark corner and the only way out is to accept that she can’t trust anyone’s truth because ultimately everyone lies.

‘In stronger moments, when I can be honest with myself, I know it can’t be true.’

This deeply intelligent and gripping novel poses one of the biggest and most frightening 'What If?' questions ever and examines through a microscopic lens feminism, sexuality and gender using the power of fiction to hold a mirror up to our own society. Mayhew sensitively analyses everything that determines who we are, our place in the world and allows the reader to consider what lies in the spaces between the past, the present and the future.

‘The moral was always implied and understood. It lived there in the Zwischenraum – that space between.’



About the author

Julie is an actress turned writer who still acts but mostly writes. 

She is an alumna of the Arvon/Jerwood Mentoring Scheme where she was tutored by Maria McCann.

Julie’s debut novel, Red Ink, was published by Hot Key Books in 2013, and was nominated for the 2014 CILIP Carnegie Medal and shortlisted for the Branford Boase Award 2014. Her second YA/Adult Crossover title, The Big Lie, will be published in August 2015.For radio, Julie has written three plays, including A Shoebox Of Snow which was nominated for Best Drama at the BBC Audio Drama Awards 2012 and shortlisted for the Nick Darke Award 2010 as a work in progress.

Julie is currently attached to Headlong theatre company as part of their first, invitational Writers’ Group.


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 and on Facebook.



Monday, 17 August 2015

Katy's Pony Challenge, by Victoria Eveleigh

I'm not a natural target for a book for children/young teens about pony-riding. There's the obvious quibble about it being rather more than a year or two since I was in hailing distance of childhood; but quite apart from that, I know very little about horse-riding. I did have a bout of enthusiasm when I was about twelve. This entailed reading Black Beauty and books by Jill Pullein-Thompson, and avidly studying instructions in comics about how to harness/groom/get onto a pony. Eventually I saved my pocket money and went for a lesson. I knew how to mount - of course I did. I'd read all about it. So how come I ended up facing the pony's tail?

It all went downhill from there. Instead of galloping across the moors (which would have been tricky in the South Derbyshire coal fields even if I knew how to gallop), the pony and I plodded unenthusiastically along the road for half an hour, then came back to the stable and said our farewells. Both of us knew this relationship was going nowhere.

Despite this unpromising back-story, I really enjoyed reading Katy's Pony Challenge. It helps that it's set on Exmoor, an area that I'm familiar with and that Victoria Eveleigh knows very well, as she lives and farms there. Reading the book was rather like having a mini holiday there - little details place you firmly in the landscape: Crystals of crunchy snow lingered among the gnarled, charred heather... At the top of the ridge they stopped to let Jacko get his breath back. Sweat had turned his dusty winter coat into slick, feathery curls, and he stood steaming in the ice-cool breeze.

It's a story about friendship, and about finding the things you're good at. Katy's friend Alice has been given an expensive new competition pony, and there's an expectation that she will become a successful and very competitive show jumper. Katy is pleased for her - and perhaps just a touch envious - but she soon begins to notice that Alice does not seem quite as enthralled as she should be.

Katy is also concerned about her Exmoor pony, Trifle, who has recently had a foal. Katy had found Trifle on the moor in a sorry state, and convinced her father to take the pony in. This means that there are now three ponies for Katy to look after - too many; Trifle needs more exercise than Katy has time to give her, and the foal, Tinks, needs to be trained. Then a newcomer to the area, Olivia, asks if her autistic son, James, can spend some time with Katy and the ponies - he's naturally drawn to horses, she says. He and Trifle quickly develop a bond. But for Katy, he's yet another responsibility.

But then she comes across a new way of schooling horses. It's called horse agility, and it requires a very different way of relating to them. James turns out to be remarkably good at it, and Alice is very drawn to it as well. Perhaps this will be the means by which they will find a solution for all their problems...

Any young person who's keen on horses will love this book - I know my daughter would have devoured it when she was younger. Just a word of warning; it's the fourth in a series. It's fine to read by itself, but you might want to buy all four!

For more book reviews, see my blog, A Fool On A Hill


Thursday, 13 August 2015

FOXCRAFT: The Taken, by Inbali Iserles; reviewed by Gillian Philip (plus giveaway!)

“It was always hardest for Fox.” Siffrin, emissary of the fox Elders, tells us so in this enchanting, gripping animal fantasy by Inbali Iserles, the first of a series. “To live free among the furless?” he goes on. “To hunt our prey without being seen? To elude our enemies as they circled us? It is Foxcraft that saved us.”  

Inbali Iserles (one of the Erin Hunter team who writes Survivors) has created a stunning animal world that ranges from the Snowlands to the Wildlands to the Greylands and beyond; it’s one that we see in all its beauty, grimness and terror through the eyes of young Isla, a not-quite-full-grown cub who is torn from her family as the story begins. Or rather, her family – Fa, Ma, Greatma and brother Pirie - is wrenched from her, in an act of terrible violence. By chance, Isla herself escapes, but she sees enough to know that the vicious attackers who destroy her world are foxes, too. The mystery is why they would do such a thing; and Iserles is skilful in giving Isla (and the reader) sinister glimpses of the answer. The hints at a dark-hearted Mage and a secret society of Elder foxes made me hungry to know more.
Of course Isla sets out to find her lost family; and her quest through the dirty, menacing streets of the Greylands – the ‘Great Snarl’, the city of the furless – is one that will call on all her courage, cunning and determination.

Luckily for a young and inexperienced fox, those are not all she has going for her. Siffrin is an enigmatic young stranger who claims to be a friend – but has he come to help her or betray her? Perhaps he simply doesn’t care, because Isla is no more than a means to an end… But what Siffrin does give the frightened youngster is a lesson in foxcraft: an ancient magic that feels profoundly real, and rooted deep in the natural world. If you’ve ever caught a glimpse of a fox, urban or rural, only to blink as it apparently vanishes in shadow, you’ll find foxcraft an all-too-believable kind of magic. 

Iserles has mined a rich vein of folklore to bring us foxes that can blend into thin air, that can mimic the calls of other creatures, that can even shapeshift. There may be other sons and daughters of Canista – dogs that are slaves to the furless humans, and savage wolves that howl and hunt in packs – but foxes are the most enigmatic: wise in foxlore, answering to no creature, standing alone, yet fiercely loyal to family.

The close fox’s-eye view of the narrative brings the reader right into Isla’s skin, feeling her joys as well as her fears. She’s an instantly engaging narrator, and her terror in the city is lightened by her flashbacks to a more innocent, happy cubhood. The supporting cast, from loving brother to vicious assassin, from empty-eyed hench-fox to a terrifyingly cynical and cold-eyed wolf, are drawn with the keen and perceptive eye of a true animal lover. The eponymous Taken – foxes who have had their will stolen by the mysterious Mage – are an enemy to chill the spine, but they can still prick your sympathy gland. Handsome Siffrin became an instant favourite of mine: he’s a combination of arrogance, charisma and clouded motivations who reminded me of Haku in the Hayao Miyazaki movie Spirited Away.

Clearly Inbali Iserles is absurdly talented, because the delightful drawings at each chapter head are her own. She has created haunting characters, a thoroughly exciting quest story and an enticing mystery. And she has combined those with descriptive writing that can raise the hairs on the back of your neck – whether you’re walking with Isla through the fresh wildness of parks, slinking down the city’s gritty, stinking alleys, or dashing with her, panicked, across its mangler-infested deathways.

“Dreams are the beginning,” Isla reminds us, as this part of the story ends. I am delighted that’s as far as they take us. I’m looking forward very much to whatever those dreams are going to bring us next. 

Thanks to the generosity of Scholastic, Awfully Big Reviews has three advance proof copies to give away! Just comment below, and three winners will be chosen at random. Results to be announced here on 1st September.

To be published by Scholastic on 1st October 2015; £5.99


Wednesday, 5 August 2015

The King of Space by Jonny Duddle - reviewed by Damian Harvey

The King of Space, written and illustrated by Jonny Duddle, has been around for a little while now but it's a book that I missed - and perhaps you did too. Whilst visiting libraries to help promote the Summer Reading Challenge - as well as talking about my own books I also spent time with children to help them choose other books that they might enjoy reading. The King of Space caught my eye and proved to be a very popular choice with readers that were looking for something fun to read but felt reluctant to jump into a bigger book.
The King of Space was a perfect choice - especially boys who loved the story, artwork and the format of the book itself. The only thing that might have put them off is that that i found the book placed amongst all of the other picture books so it tends to get missed. While King of Space is a picture book - for me it is one of those real gems... a picture book for older readers.
Rex isn't really a naughty boy. He's just a normal boy with big ideas who is tired of living a boring life on Mum and Dad's Moog farm. While all of the other children/aliens at school have little ideas about what they want to be when they grow up, Rex bravely declares that he wants to be the 'KING OF SPACE!' Naturally, all of his classmates laugh at him but Rex is determined to see his plan through.
With the help of his mechanically minded friend, Blip, Rex builds a huge 'WARBOT' that will enable him to achieve his goal. Then one night whilst Mum and Dad think Rex is having a sleepover at his friends house, Rex and his Warbot 'crush all resistance in the Western Spiral' and Rex declares himself King of Space. And just to be 'on the safe side' he kidnaps Emperor Bob's daughter.
As you can well imagine, the Emperor and the Intergalactic Alliance aren't happy with Rex's behaviour - he's been a very naughty boy - so a huge fleet of spaceships converge on Rex's house. Rex does the only thing he can an rushes in to tell Mum and Dad what he's done and that he doesn't want to play anymore. It is, of course, all left to Mum to sort out the trouble. But is this an end to Rex's plans???

The picture book/comic book style of this works very well and it certainly has plenty of appeal for older readers. There is lots of humour that will appeal to the older readers too, whilst also striking a very familiar chord with adults.

The King of Space is lots of fun and it's a book I will be recommending again.

You can visit Jonny Duddle's website

Damian Harvey can be found at
Twitter @damianjharvey