Never Mind the Bestsellers…

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…Here’s the Alternative Kids’ Lit Reading List!

The Lesser Known Movers and Shakers of Children’s Literature

Summer holidays and book recommendation posts go together. To be read piles usually consist of the most recent bestsellers to come to your particular genre of choice. I could tell you about these books but the chances are you already know.

So here’s something different. A few forgotten (and free) Victorian children’s books that will rock your world because:

  • Out of the five authors featured, four are women.
  • One could arguably be described as the first author writing in a YA LGBT genre.
  • One is a comic genius whose stories are as fresh and funny as anything you’ll pick up today.
  • One defied all odds: was blinded as a child and escaped Ireland’s Great Hunger before going on to write many children’s books.
  • One was the childhood favourite of CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien, with both ‘using’ it to influence major parts of their most famous books.

If you’re an adult who likes children’s literature, you need to know these books. If there was a family tree for children’s literature, these guys would be the movers and shakers, there just as it was all getting going. If they’d been late 20th Century musicians, they would have been in the audience for the Sex Pistols at Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall in the summer of ’76. Legends and influencers the lot of them and well worth your time.

A Sweet Girl Graduate by L.T Meade (1891)

“You are a clever girl, Prissie, and I’m going to be proud of you. I don’t hold with the present craze about women’s education. But I feel somehow that I shall be proud of you.”

Elizabeth Thomasina Meade Smith: feminist and original YA author. She wrote many books in her lifetime and can be seen as a forerunner in LGBT fiction. She was a bit of a marvel.

A Sweet Girl Graduate is right there at the start of women in higher education, sharing it as a fiction and encouraging its readers to think about this world. It’s diverse too. Protagonist Priscilla, unlike the other girls at her college, is poor and struggles to make ends meet. She is quiet, hard-working, has a “careworn” face older than her years and a “too serious mouth”. For anyone out there who rolls their eyes each time they are told yet another  YA female protagonist is extraordinarily beautiful (without knowing it of course), I give you the reassuringly normal Priscilla and her true depth of character as a square peg in a round hole.

Priscilla expects life at her all-girls’ college to be all about study, but soon discovers that forming and maintaining relationships with the other young women there is equally as time-consuming. There is a spirit of intimacy between the girls that’s been described as an early depiction of lesbian relationships. This is a brilliant read and a much-needed insight into late Victorian social history from a woman’s perspective.

Free online text with illustrations 

Holiday House by Catherine Sinclair  (1839)

If you read just one of these books, make it Holiday House.

Sinclair introduces us to Harry and Laura, the Victorian answer to Horrid Henry. They live comfortably in Edinburgh with their doting uncle and grandmother. They are stringently policed by the formidable Mrs Crabtree whose old-fashioned methods of  ruling with an iron fist hold no truck with the children or their guardians. Like Blyton’s hopeless village policemen, she doesn’t have a chance against her young opponents and goes off regularly, like a kettle left too long on the heat.

The first half of Holiday House is a chronicle of Harry and Laura’s amazingly naughty escapades that they happily never learn from. Sinclair’s voice is everything: she writes with a humour similar to the much later PG Wodehouse. Socks will be laughed off. These adventures would go down well in any Key Stage Two classroom today.

Be warned though: the second half of the book drops off into the more usual moral tale and leaves behind the pioneering style of the first half. Sinclair later spoke of regretting this move and wished she could rewrite it. My advice is read up to chapter ten and stop. Even so, this is a classic that should be more widely enjoyed today.

Free online text here.

The Cuckoo Clock by Mrs Molesworth (1877)


Griselda and the Cuckoo Inside the Clock

Mrs Molesworth was using inanimate objects to travel to magical lands long before Enid Blyton ever wrote about her wishing chair. A wonderful story from the start in which a young girl (Griselda) comes to live with elderly relatives and senses something unusual about the house. It turns out she is right in this first impression as there is magic in the air. Young Griselda finds that the cuckoo in the cuckoo clock can come to life and the clock has the power to take her to fantastic lands. A story of magic and finding new friends mixed with a nice bit of Victorian didacticism, as you would expect.

Link to free online text with illustrations

Granny’s Wonderful Chair by Frances Browne (1857)

Talking of magical chairs, here’s another. Back in 1857 Frances Browne was using this as the key form of transport in her latest book Granny’s Wonderful Chair. In it, Snowflower leaves home to travel to a fine palace where she tells her fairy stories to the lords and ladies present.

It’s a sweet book that will touch your heart and gets even more poignant when put into context. Frances Browne was a remarkable woman who was born in Donegal with no benefit of family wealth. She was blinded by smallpox as a young child but wouldn’t let this hold her back. She loved writing and particularly enjoyed the fairy stories her mother told her. Browne was forced to leave Ireland because of The Great Hunger in 1847 and when you read Granny’s Wonderful Chair you’ll most likely notice references to morality in relation to greed and hunger. This is a beautiful piece of story telling that rings through so clearly that the author might well be reading it aloud to you.

Free online text with illustrations

 The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald (1872)

Princess Irene Explores the Castle

Young Princess Irene lives a lonely life in a castle in the mountains with only her nursemaid for company. One rainy day she is forced to play inside and stumbles upon a series of strange rooms and a beautiful woman who says she is Irene’s great great grandmother. Irene’s world takes a magical turn from here as her adventures take her under the mountains and into the world of goblins, although always under the protective gaze of her newly found relative that no one else believes exists.

Ring any bells? It should do. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S Lewis and The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien were heavily influenced by it. Both authors cited The Princess and the Goblin as a favourite childhood book and a big influence on their own stories. You’ll spot even more things in common as you read. A fascinating book with the pleasing extra of having an extremely old lady in a position of agency and central to the plot. Best mentally visualised in Japanese Anime style, because it’s that wildly imaginative and distinctive.

Free online text with illustrations

Top image credited  to The National Library of Scotland, with thanks.

Countless by Karen Gregory

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Hedda and Nia

When seventeen year old Hedda finds out she is pregnant, her already fragile world is turned upside down. Largely estranged from her family and struggling to attend her college course, the only solid thing in her life seems to be Nia.

Nia who sees things from her point of view, and who is always there to tell her what to do. The problem is, Nia is an eating disorder: anorexia personified by Hedda. Nia has been in Hedda’s life for a long time. Will she move over and make room for a baby?

Hedda knows that for the next 17 weeks she must call a truce with Nia and give the baby the food she needs to grow. But will it be that straight forward and how will Hedda react once the baby comes?

Authentic and Engaging

Countless is a really brave debut written about a difficult subject but Karen Gregory has got the tone absolutely spot on. Hedda as protagonist is authentic and engaging: she inspires thought and brings questions to my mind. It feels like she could be out there, and not just on the page. 

Throughout her story, I was with Hedda, willing her to keep going and to believe in herself. The support network she has in the book is a little unorthodox (as things in life often are) and as a reader I felt that I slotted myself in as an extra unseen part of it. For that reason I’d recommend Countless as both a YA read and something I’m sure older readers will enjoy too-I know I did.

Be warned though, this is one of those books though that is incredibly hard to put down. It’s intense and all-consuming, so put aside some time! I picked it up yesterday and was still awake at one this morning reading away avidly. Some books are best read that way, and this is certainly one of them.

Bold and Brilliant

Countless is a bold and brilliant piece of debut fiction and I’m already looking forward to more from Karen Gregory. Available 4th May 2017

Big thanks to Emily’s Bookshop in Chipping Campden for generously sharing this copy with me.

The Territory, Escape by Sarah Govett

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The Territory,  Escape (Book Two)

It’s 2059. 15 year old Noa Blake has earned the right to live in The Territory but her friend Jack hasn’t been so lucky. In this dystopian future, you have to pass an exam to stay safe and Jack’s time in the regulated environment of The Territory has run out. He’s been transported to the highly dangerous Wetlands, an area Territory occupants see as tantamount to a death sentence.

Noa isn’t going to stand by and let her friend disappear forever. In a bold move, along with love interest Raf, she vows to go into The Wetlands to find Jack and bring him home. From this point the action really gets going.

Suitable for young adults rather than children, The Territory, Escape is the second book in this series. I hear the first book is excellent but haven’t read it yet. Coming in part way through didn’t affect my enjoyment at all. The main characters were easily likeable and I therefore clicked with the story from the outset.

A Fresh Take on Dystopian Fiction

Sarah Govett gives just enough background information to satisfy new readers without going over too much old ground. It’s obvious to say that The Territory, Escape will appeal to fans of YA dystopian fiction, but I’d also like to add that it’s the most relatable book in this genre that I’ve read so far. Our female protagonist Noa is natural and three-dimensional. Even when she’s in The Wetlands encountering dangerous or life threatening situations, she’s brave and risky but remains young in voice and feel. I also really liked the way both luck and friendship play their parts in the book, as does the importance of being valued by others and finding your place.

The Territory, Escape was for me a fresh take on dystopian fiction and one I look forward to exploring further.


Thanks to Firefly Press who were kind enough to send me my copy.




The Last Beginning by Lauren James

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The Last Beginning

The Last Beginning is Lauren James’ YA sequel to last year’s time travelling treat The Next Together. To read one without the other would be foolish and to be quite honest if you haven’t read The Next Together yet, then why not? Get a flavour for it by checking out my review here.


The Last Beginning properly introduces teenager Clove, daughter of Matt and Kate from the first book. Clove was previously promised to be of great significance to events as they continue to unfurl forwards and backwards in time. Readers looking forward to finding out the full impact of this will not be disappointed.


I can’t reveal too much in this review as the pleasure in reading here is to be carried along for the ride. Know this though: there is further time travel in The Last Beginning, and some familiar settings and characters will be revisited. This time however, Clove brings a different dimension to events as she works to understand her parents’ destiny.

James narrates us through an absolutely epic plot line (I can’t begin to imagine how all-consuming it must have been to plan) but makes it feel somehow plausible. And that’s the thing, the feeling that creates an irresistible world to be carried into.

Get Prepared

If to read a book is to participate in an event- which I think it is- then prepare for a hell of a journey. This is an active read with anticipation and retrospection on a grand scale. Fans of The Next Together will enjoy the thrill of new characters and old, different perspectives and establishing fresh connections along the way.

To read in itself is to time travel so The Last Beginning is easily more than the sum of its parts. A fabulous book to read, discuss and just have a darned good think about! Personally, I can’t wait to see what Lauren James* does in the future.


Huge thanks to Walker Books for sending me this fabulous book.

* Rather chuffed to find out Lauren is also a former Bablake pupil like me, although at different points in the past!


The Other Alice by Michelle Harrison

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Beyond Boundaries

Some authors send their readers straight into their worlds: there is no door into Tolkien’s Middle Earth, no way of gaining entrance to Le Guin’s Earthsea. The only way in is by opening the book and beginning to read.

Others provide a portal, some means of gaining entrance; usually a deliberate action by the protagonist, if not at first then afterwards. Lucy may have stumbled into Narnia during a game of hide and seek, but each time after she wanted to visit. Pullman’s Will Parry sees his parallel world and makes a decision to enter and Rowling’s Harry Potter is shown the various ways into the wizarding community of Britain.

Whether travelling by rabbit hole or wardrobe, tornado or train, there is a reassurance from the outset that as we are clear about the way in, we may also feel in some way secure about a way out. We are relatively free to enjoy the excitement and dangers of another world with a degree of detachment.

When you set out to read The Other Alice, you’re granted no such protection…

The Other Alice

In The Other Alice, Michelle Harrison’s other world isn’t sought or visited via a handy entrance; instead it comes to us unannounced and most definitely without invitation. The boundaries of truth and fiction become wonderfully hazy. Magic doesn’t seem like the stuff of fantasy stories anymore, but real and ancient and quite possible. Harrison has a knack of making magic and fantasy so close and so conceivable that it feels risky. Be careful what you wish for; it might just come true.

The Museum of Unfinished Stories

The Other Alice is narrated by Mitch, who is telling us a memory of his childhood. Looking back, he tells us about his older sister Alice who loves writing stories to the point of obsession. Mitch has grown up hearing Alice’s brilliant creations and so is understandably a huge fan of stories and riddles himself.

When Alice vanishes without a trace, it is Mitch who must unravel the mystery and save his sister. By discovering and then using her secret book ‘The Museum of Unfinished Stories’, he begins to reveal the full extent of the problem. This is no ordinary book. How can it be when its characters have seemingly stepped off the page and are walking around Mitch’s home town, including a girl who looks just like Alice?

The thing about book characters is that there are both heroes and villains. With chunks of the ‘The Museum of Unfinished Mysteries’ missing, Mitch cannot hope to decipher alone which is which. By taking a risk and placing his trust in some of his sister’s creations, he begins to solve the riddle…

The Other Alice is one of the best written and most beguiling books I’ve read this year, with hands-down the most intriguing and arresting plot-line. For readers aged 11 years plus, this is a mind-blowing meta-fiction read that will have you reliving the story in your head and looking twice at the people you see in the street. Total immersive brilliance.

Eden Summer by Liz Flanagan

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eden summer 2 done

” That morning I have no clue what’s happened. No inkling. No foreboding. Not a sausage. I must be the opposite of psychic, cos I’m actually almost happy.”

Suitable for readers of 13 years plus, Eden Summer is Liz Flanagan’s debut novel and an absolute must for your summer ‘to read’ pile, whether you’re a YA or a NSYA (Not So Young Adult).

School in September, GCSE year. The day has started well for Jess but is all that’s about to change. She’s about to find out that best friend Eden has been missing since last night and it feels like she is the last to find out.

So unfolds an irresistibly thrilling read, the story of Jess and Eden’s precarious summer and the background building up to it: a web of circumstance and secrets, cause and effect. Sufficed to say, that was me out of all avoidable human contact for the next two to three hundred pages as I ran with Jess, questioning her world and doing everything possible to find Eden and return her home.

The setting of the quirky town amongst hills, moorland and rivers is perfect; Jess and Eden couldn’t be anywhere else and you won’t want to be either. The past plays a vital role here and both girls have had a hard time in the build up to Eden’s disappearance, it’s fair to say more than most. Liz Flanagan brings the girls and their contexts to us with care and authenticity.

Perception and identity are expertly handled throughout the book and this for me is where my thoughts return to post reading. This makes me think Eden Summer would be a walloping good choice for a book group discussion as there’s an awful lot to talk about and reflect on, as well as being a thoroughly enjoyable read.

For those who are after a book to fall deeply into (and who in their right mind isn’t?), you owe it to yourself to check out Eden Summer.


Hey Grown-Ups! 5 YA Books to Float Your Boat This Summer

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summer recommendations

With the summer holidays approaching, here are five absolutely brilliant YA books that all adults should be making space for in their beach bags. Take your pick from historical fiction, fantasy, contemporary romance, thriller or high concept ghost story; whichever you choose guarantees hours of happy escapism. Each of these titles captivated me and I envy you if you’ve got the pleasure of reading them ahead of you!

A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond

ella grey

A Song for Ella Grey is a stand alone piece of literature, young adult or otherwise. Set in Almond’s own North-East, this is his version of the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice. Exceptionally romantic for both set and players, Almond’s lyrical voice glides us dreamlike into Ella’s and Orpheus’ world which is both magical and menacing.

Claire is Ella’s best friend and she narrates, sharing the unreality of Ella’s romance alongside the fragility of coming to the end of your time at school, with the pressure of exams and the last summer before the imminent splitting of friendship groups as people move on. Remember that feeling?

Read for the glorious Bamburgh beach scenes and be swept under by the blissful story telling.

Alien Rain by Ruth Morgan

alien rain done

Alien Rain by Ruth Morgan is exhilarating and action-packed YA science fiction.

It’s 3016 and Earth has long since been uninhabited due to the devastating effects of war. Although life continues on Mars, with the population living under thick domes in contained cities, there are still many links to home. Our story is part based in New Cardiff, a Martian city built to replicate Cardiff on Earth and originally designed to create a feeling of belonging and familiarity for the first dwellers.

Here we meet Bree, an immediately friendly and likeable teenage girl living in New Cardiff. Bree becomes part of the Earth mission team at the Cardiff Scientific Survey Organisation (SSO) and learns quickly that the public image of Earth and the classified factual information are two very different things.

She is informed that in returning to the home planet there are dangers the team will have to face every day, weapons originally developed by Earthlings in the final war. In discovering just how much the SSO is holding back from the general public, a delicious seed of suspicion was created for me. I couldn’t wait for Bree to get to Earth and start to uncover the truth.

A more than slightly addictive page turner, plus, it’ll open your eyes to the everyday loveliness of our planet, something I was all too happy to be reminded of.

The Boy Who Drew the Future by Rhian Ivory

boy who drew done

The Boy Who Drew the Future is a gripping read, beautifully told by Rhian Ivory. It’s about two teenage boys living in different times but inexplicably linked by their unusual talent for drawing the future.

In the present we have Noah, a good soul and intriguing character, just moved with his parents to the village of Sible Hedingham. A new start isn’t a bad thing: you see, Noah’s had problems in the past that cannot be rubbed out and redrawn.

In the past, we read from Blaze’s point of view, also told in Sible Hedingham but in 1865. Although Blaze also has the gift/ curse to draw people’s futures, it is partially acknowledged in this time frame. This certainly doesn’t make his life any easier than Noah’s though, for whilst some accept and even consult Blaze about their own lives, he knows this could very quickly backfire.

The Boy Who Drew the Future tells their fascinating stories, unravelling the links and uncovering elements of past, present and future in the process. Chapters are equally shared between the boys, punchy and action orientated, which had me binge-reading for long periods of time.

Scenes are highly visual, varied and exciting; it’s all too easy to become submerged. You have been warned.

Jessica’s Ghost by Andrew Norriss

jessicas ghost


We begin with Francis, alone.

It’s a freezing cold school day in February and he’s chosen his location well: a bench at the far side of the school playing field, cold and exposed enough to know most of his fellow pupils will stay away in the warm indoors, yet in full view of the school building- an option not preferred by the smokers and the skivers.

He needs time to think. He’s not finding life easy or enjoyable, so being alone feels like a good move and this spot at this time of year provides that in bucketloads. So, you can imagine Francis’ surprise when a girl about his own age walks across the grass towards him and sits down at the other end of the bench. As she’s wearing a strappy summer dress, Francis presumes she must be cold and offers her a cup of tea from his flask.

She isn’t cold. This is Jessica and Jessica, we discover, is dead.

She’s been dead for about a year, has no memory of how she died, just that she found herself in a hospital room one day and knew that she was. Francis is the first person to acknowledge her since that day, so I guess it’s pretty shocking for both of them. However, apart from the obvious difference, they find they have a lot in common, like each other and begin to hang around together.

I want to tell you more, but I can’t because you will, I guarantee, want to own it for yourself.

Jessica’s Ghost is an absolutely captivating and beautifully written tale of how valuable friendship and kindness are, in good times and bad, and how we never know what is around the corner.  There is authenticity here, a whole little world and more than a little to hope for. A book with soul.

Darkmere by Helen Maslin

darkmere done

This is the YA book that inspired this post. Reading and reviewing this recently was such a pleasure and it bears repeating that Darkmere is a fabulous book.

To recap, family pile Darkmere Castle has recently been inherited by private school kingpin Leo, who plans to spend all summer there partying with his friends including our protagonist Kate.

Darkmere Castle is totally off the beaten track. Unfurnished and uninhabited for years but with the bones of grandeur clear to see, Darkmere is the perfect Gothic holiday destination for teenagers in a book. The mood is thrillingly ominous and the pace exhilarating.

Once there, Kate learns more about Darkmere’s dwellers both past and present.

In the present, Leo’s other guests are all charismatic in different ways, but for me the best thing about them is that as a group they brought that all too familiar sense of edginess I remember from being their age. The sense that anything could happen.

From the past,  we are treated to discovering even more from original inhabitant Elinor through Maslin’s dual narrative. Elinor is alleged to have placed a curse on the castle and all future male heirs back in the early 1800s, so this is thrilling stuff we need to know.

Soon enough, strange things begin to occur and the castle starts to reveals its secrets. You will be utterly hooked. Just don’t forget to breathe.

PS: Secret number six, a book I’ve just finished: Eden Summer by Liz Flanagan, another excellent YA summer read.

Check out my review here.

Enjoy, and happy holidays!

Need to know more?

Here are the links to my original posts:

A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond

Alien Rain by Ruth Morgan

The Boy Who Drew the Future by Rhian Ivory

Jessica’s Ghost by Andrew Norriss

Darkmere by Helen Maslin


Darkmere by Helen Maslin

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darkmere done

” And then, at last, there it was, high above us on the hillside. Just like the picture on the postcard- with turrets and a shroud of ivy- but now in high definition with sound and movement. The dark trees swayed all around it, the windows flashed in the sunshine and the sea made a constant hushing on the air. I could see the clock tower right at the front- time frozen for ever at five past twelve. It was Leo’s castle.

Our castle!”


I’ve been saving Darkmere by Helen Maslin up for MONTHS. Since seeing Helen at Waterstones Birmingham a while back, Darkmere has intrigued me, so I decided there and then to squirrel it away for my summer holiday. I say summer holiday, but it would be more accurately described as the best part of a week spent in a tent, on Exmoor, under questionable weather conditions.

Reading a spine-chilling Gothic thriller with no mobile signal, whilst a thin layer of polyester separates me from who knows what? Sounds great!


Family pile Darkmere Castle has recently been inherited by private school kingpin Leo, who plans to spend all summer there partying with his friends. Amongst the guests is our Kate (I am claiming some sort of ownership here on behalf of us all as she is fabulous: cool, clever and also mentions trying to have hair like Debbie Harry, which recommends her highly in my book).

Kate is new to the school, not rich by any means and looks different to the other girls. Leo has been nothing but friendly since she arrived- notably more than friendly outside a nightclub one night- and he invites her along.

Darkmere Castle is totally off the beaten track, I’m imagining it in the craggiest reaches of Cornwall. Unfurnished and uninhabited for years but with the bones of grandeur clear to see, Darkmere is the perfect spooky holiday destination for teenagers in a book!

The mood is thrillingly ominous and the pace exhilarating. We’re away from school and at Darkmere in no time, ready for whatever adventures it may bring.


Once there, the summer really begins and Kate learns more about Darkmere’s dwellers both past and present. In the present, Leo’s other guests are all charismatic in different ways, but for me the best thing about them is that as a group they brought that all too familiar sense of edginess I remember from being their age.

The sense that anything could happen.

From the past,  we are treated to discovering even more from original inhabitant Elinor through Maslin’s dual narrative. Elinor is alleged to have placed a curse on the castle and all future male heirs back in the early 1800s, so this is good stuff we need to know.

Soon enough, strange things begin to occur and the castle starts to reveals its secrets. You will be utterly hooked. Just don’t forget to breathe.

And Sorry

Apologies to my husband, who was ignored for hours on end during our holiday as I obsessed over Darkmere. Sufficed to say, I absolutely loved it and would give it a big thumbs up for readers of 13 years plus, and particularly to any adults (especially if they’re fans of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca) who are after an excellent and all-consuming summer read.

Raven by Tommy Donbavand

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Tommy V Cancer

I’m honoured to be reviewing the wonderful Raven by Tommy Donbavand today as part of the month-long Tommy V Cancer Blog Tour.


raven done

” I tiptoed down the stairs, then took a moment to calm my breath before I went into the living room. This wasn’t going to go well- I already knew that- so I might as well be ready for the row that was about to come.

I took a last moment to enjoy the peace and quiet, then I went inside.”

There are a few things 15 year old Poppy would like. She would like everyone to call her Raven instead of Poppy, but that doesn’t seem to be catching on. She’d also like to be allowed to dye her hair black, but her mum’s put a stop to that. Still, she didn’t say anything about not dyeing it pink, did she? We meet Poppy just as she is taking advantage of this loophole and about to face the subsequent music…

Most of all though, Poppy would like two things back that she no longer has. The first is her twin brother Stephen, who vanished without warning seven months ago and hasn’t been seen since. Secondly, she’d like her own life back. As a consequence of Stephen’s disappearance, Poppy’s mum has been ultra protective with her, really clamping down on what she can and can’t do. This situation certainly hasn’t been helped by rumours of strange people meeting in the local woods…

As Poppy sees it, it’s up to her to find Stephen and sort things out once and for all.

I loved Poppy straight away: she’s bright, confident and stands up for what she believes in, plus she has pink hair, which is very cool! Raven is a thrilling read that packs quite a punch into its fifty pages. Tommy Donbavand knows what he’s doing here, creating intrigue and excitement quickly whilst allowing the reader the space to imagine what might happen next. Raven is a book to be devoured whole, shared, discussed and then most likely, read again. It’s clear that good things do come in small packages.

Raven by Tommy Donbavand is part of the wonderful Teen Reads collection from Badger Learning.  Currently numbering 36 in total, Teen Reads are a collection of short novels designed to be enjoyed by less able young adult readers and accessible to those with a reading age of 8 to 9 years. The books are designed to be dyslexia friendly, with bite sized text chunking and a well spaced layout, off-white paper and more mature themes to capture the imagination of readers aged 12 years plus.

About Tommy


Tommy is the author of the popular 13-book Scream Street series for 7 to 10 year olds, published by Walker Books in the UK and Candlewick Press in the US.  His other books include Zombie!, Wolf and Uniform (winner of the Hackney Short Novel Award) for Barrington Stoke, Boredom Busters and Quick Fixes For Kids’ Parties (How To Books), and Making A Drama Out Of A Crisis (Network Continuum).

In theatre, Tommy’s plays have been performed to thousands of children on national tours to venues such as The Hackney Empire, Leeds City Varieties, and Nottingham Playhouse. He is also responsible for five episodes of the CBBC TV series, Planet Cook (Platinum Films).

As an actor, Tommy played the Clearlake MC in the West End musical Buddy: A veteran of pantomime, he has portrayed just about every comic character from Abanazer to an Ugly Sister.

Tommy lives in Lancashire with his wife and two sons.  He is a HUGE fan of all things Doctor Who, plays blues harmonica, and makes a mean balloon poodle.  He sees sleep as a waste of good writing time.

Over to You

Tommy is currently going through a very tough time, but we can help. There are lots of ways we can support him and his family as they deal with this hideous illness. Please take some time to read Tommy’s own blog which will keep you up to date with how he’s doing. You can buy his books and spread the word about how fabulous they are. Plus there’s more: you can follow the links here and here to support Tommy, become a patron, follow the ad links on his site or make a one-off donation. Please do what you can. Thanks, Beccy.

Tommy Tour 3




Girl Out of Water by Nat Luurtsema

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girl out of water done


High and Dry

When Lou Brown fails to make the grade at try outs for a High Performance Training Camp, her hopes of swimming for Team GB take a nose dive. If that wasn’t hard to enough to take, she also has to deal with her best friend Hannah making it through, which means

  1. Trying to be full of happiness and enthusiasm for her friend’s success whilst hiding (massive) twinges of jealousy, and
  2. Waking up to the sudden realisation that her best friend is her only friend, therefore without her school will suck for the next term (and slinking around unnoticed isn’t really an option when you’re 15 years old, 5’10” and still growing…)

With coach Deb insisting she takes a break from swimming for the time being, Lou is left high and dry. No Hannah and no swimming equals pretty much no life; something the mean girls at the pool are more than happy to confirm. That is at least until a different kind of challenge comes her way and Lou finds herself coaching three very good-looking, very cool boys in the newly created sport of underwater dancing, with hopes of getting them through to the final of Britain’s Hidden Talent. After that, life changes somewhat.

Girl Out of Water (for readers of 12 years plus) is a straight forward, no messing, top-notch read from Nat Luurtsema. It will, speaking from personal experience, take over your mind and cause you to neglect your boiling eggs (not a euphemism) and make you stay up far too late reading on a school night.

Girl Out of Water

Lou is wonderful. She will have you snorting with laughter in that way you do when a friend whispers something hilarious, unexpected and utterly accurate in your ear. Plus, with Lou, it’s easy to empathise from the start. Nat Luurtsema reminds us how much harder it is to not come up to scratch at something you’ve always been good at, than it is to be completely woeful at something that’s not your thing. It’s so true: I managed to be cheerfully terrible at physics throughout school without too much bother, but going from being the best at art in school to being at best average at college was a hard pill to swallow. Pride, as they say, comes before a fall.

Girl Out of Water is an excellent choice for young readers- especially girls- who feel like square pegs in the round hole of school life. Lou, in my mind, is already the poster girl for intelligent, articulate, witty young women everywhere who aren’t interested in conforming to a plastic ‘ideal’. I’m sure you’ll love her too.

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Did I mention it’s funny too? Bound to be loved. Girl Out of Water: sure to make a splash this June.


Thank you very much to Walker Books for sending me this copy of Girl Out of Water.