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The Wrongful Death is the third book in the Great Devil War series – and yet again I raced through it. I don’t think it could be read easily as a standalone, and I would recommend reading the previous books before anyone dives into this one. Philip is back in Hell, this time searching for the school bully, Sam, who shouldn’t be there (yet). This book goes ‘beyond’ Hell though, as Philip (with his friend Satina) journeys into Heaven and also Hades, providing a contrast between all of the ‘after-life’ worlds. The relationship between Lucifer and Jehovah, in particular, is very entertaining. I can tell that the author has had fun creating each setting and the characters within them – his vivid imagination driving the plot forwards through great world building and character development. Trouble is brewing in Lucifer’s kingdom, providing the backdrop for Philip’s search and the start of the ‘Great Devil War’. Yet again the book features strong themes and also an unconventional (though not disrespectful) view of religion – Heaven versus Hell, punishment and retribution in the afterlife and creation of the world (explained as six years in Heaven is a couple of billion years on Earth). There’s plenty of dark humour alongside some gruesome descriptions (so, as with the previous books, this may not be suitable for younger teenagers or for the faint-hearted). There are several familiar biblical and historical characters to watch out for (I’ll leave these as a surprise), and the inclusion of Hades also introduces Greek mythology. This provides not only entertainment but also an educational slant. The Wrongful Death doesn’t end as neatly as the two previous books – in fact, there is a huge cliff-hanger, so be prepared for it. I won’t give anything away, but it is clear that there is more to come (as there’s a teaser for the next book at the end). I’m looking forward to it!
Beautifully written, The Unnamed Beast is a story of courage, friendship, strength and hope. When a fire breaks out, and starts to destroy the Wood, the unnamed beast is upset to see his beloved home on fire, but when he finds out from a Badger, that it's a dragon, he thinks it's his fault, and he is responsible for the destruction, after being told this isn't so, and so he decided to confront the Dragon and put a stop to it, as he starts on his journey, he meets other creatures of the wood, and friendships to start to form. I found this book had a touch of Roald Dahl, Dr Seuss and Julia Donaldson. Throughout, the story was enriched with illustrations and I think that The Unnamed Beast could easily become a children's classic. The story was told beautifully with the use of rhyme and I can see that it will have the readers smiling and children laughing as they follow the unnamed beast on his journey. Angela Rhodes, A LoveReading4Kids Ambassador
This eighth book in the Riverdale Pony Stories series is packed with peril, mystery and high-octane action as pony-mad Poppy McKeever goes into detective mode to track down the dog that attacked the sheep on her friend’s farm, while also preparing for a big riding competition. While the writing is pacey and has an urgency to it, at times the somewhat dense descriptions could benefit from a little trimming. But, overall, this gripping, entertaining adventure rings with authentic dialogue, strong evocations of the countryside and Poppy’s indomitable spirit.
When I first started reading this one, I thought it was going to be about a journey through the animal kingdom, but I was so wrong. In fact, this book is about the impact of deforestation affects on the different habitats in the forest. I found this to be a beautifully simple yet very interesting read that I enjoyed very much. By the time I finished it got me thinking about nature and how it’s being affected in by all the changes. The story is told through the point of a tree which I found strange at first but then as the story progressed it really worked out well. This may be aimed for younger readers but I think it should be read by everyone. A great relaxing read. Manish Natha, a LoveReading4Kids Ambassador
With an engaging rhyming text that’s ideal for reading aloud, this picture book is a warm-hearted way for Muslim pre-schoolers and those of infants school age to understand and celebrate what it means to be Muslim. It would also make a great tool for teachers and parents to introduce all children to the principles of the faith. It’s underpinned by a warm message of inclusivity – “we don't all look the same”, Muslims are “different colours, shapes and sizes” – and accompanied by soft, fuzzy illustrations of all kinds of toddlers enjoying each others company in harmony and a spirit of kindness.
Puff is a “caring, noble” grey squirrel whose propensity for distraction is seemingly hampering his future potential to represent the Grey Clan in the Tournament of Oaks, a contest that determines which clan will rule the park for the coming seasons. Indeed, according to Puff’s mentor, Sir Pattercloud, Puff will never become a Knight Captain unless he learns “how to determine what is most important”. Puff gets his chance to prove his worth when Pattercloud vanishes right before he’s due to represent Clan Grey in the tournament and do battle with wily Scratchclaw of Clan Black. While the tale is tightly-told and crisply atmospheric, its messages are driven home a little too hard, too often. Having said that, it’s a good read for 8+ year-olds who like animal-centred fantastical adventures (think Brian Jacques for younger readers), but struggle to finish a whole novel. Perhaps also one to recommend for time-pressed, fantasy-fan adults to read with or to kids.
Part picture book, part illustrated young fiction, this crime-themed Christmas story sees siblings Jack and Sarah head to school where their Granddad, a retired multi-award-winning writer, has been invited to read one of his stories to the pupils. The tale he tells is the eponymous Robbers Nearly Ruined Christmas, in which (you’ve guessed it!) some (Milton Keynes-residing) robbers almost spoil Christmas, but - thankfully - Dancer the reindeer steps up to save the day. This could make a fun tale to read-aloud to young children in the run-up to Christmas, but there’s something of a mismatch between the illustration style and picture book format - both of which are better suited to young toddlers - and the story level, length and language, which are more appropriate for older readers. Also, there’s no integration of the framing story (the siblings going to school) with the seasonal story Granddad reads to the pupils. This would be improved by working-up a real-life story around the tale Granddad tells, or else leaving out the framing elements and simply focussing on the Christmas story itself, which is peppered with peril, elves and action. As a lovely bonus, there are some pages to colour-in at the back.
Somewhere between picture book and illustrated young fiction, this cracking Christmas story (pun entirely intended!) is set three days before the big day. Excitement is mounting for siblings Jack and Sarah, who are out with their mum, soaking up the seasonal atmosphere – shop windows laden with presents, the scent of mince pies, the sound of carols. Back at home, they settle down for a cosy evening’s entertainment courtesy of their Granddad reading one of his stories, in which Santa’s elves are engaged in a frantic flurry of activity. However, when the big night arrives, it soon becomes clear that Santa Claus Junior doesn’t have much idea about where they’re going, which means they’re way behind schedule. So, if Christmas is to be saved, the more experienced elves and reindeers will have to help out. While there’s some incongruity between the young illustration style and picture book format, and the older story level and length, this is ideal for reading-aloud to children in those thrilling days before Christmas, while the extra pages to colour-in will keep little ones happily entertained.
Featuring effervescent illustrations and an engaging rhyming text, this picture book has lots of page-turning “what happens next?” appeal, which makes it perfect for reading aloud to animal-mad toddlers. Poor Tiger! He’s lost his stripes while doing his washing, and a real sense of drama is evoked as Tiger prowls the jungle in search of them. Along the way he encounters a host of animals who’ve also lost their defining features - first parading Peacock who’s lost his “fabulous tail”, then Mongoose who’s lost his nose, then Wolf who’s without his teeth. But who’s the thief? While the text could be trimmed in places for smoother scansion, and the concluding morals could be expressed more subtly, this is a well-designed, vibrant picture book, and the reveal and outcome is sure to illicit surprise from little ones. Joanne Owen
Suspenseful YA spy thriller that throngs with gaming, guts and deadly risks. Teenager Jack is up to his neck in trouble. His brother is about to be imprisoned for a crime Jack plotted and, on top of that, a secret agency is using this intelligence to force him to join them. Jack’s mission? To infiltrate the manufacturer of a hot new game to discover what’s really going on there. Caught between more than a few rocks and hard places, Jack is forced to make a near impossible decision. While the premise is strong and the story packed with action, the tendency to over-wordiness and repetitive descriptions slow down the plot in places. Having said that, there’s enough pace-turning peril to recommend it to fans of Alex Rider and Young Bond.
A riotously imaginative feast of fantastical adventure with lashings of larger-than-life characters and curious goings-on. Following the amusingly absurd loss of Peter’s parents (kidnapped by pirates, then eaten by tigers), “the Overseers of Children decided the lad was too young to live in the hut on Evil Island without them”, and so he’s sent to live with his aunt and uncle in their shop on the Peculiar Hill. From Peter’s arrival here, it’s perfectly clear that Peculiar Hill is as peculiar in nature as it is in name. “You’ll need a hat here when the bogeys start flying around,” says the Station Master. “Otherwise your head’ll get covered in fizz”. But no one is in a hurry to explain what bogeys and fizz are, or what ‘unge’, ‘glop’ and ‘heeble-greebs’ are either for that matter. And then there’s Peter’s introduction to the very essence of “strangeness” and the nearby Vale of Strange, a place that, according to his uncle, a number of tourists have vanished into and never returned. Soon enough, Peter discovers the unnerving secrets of this place, and then finds himself embroiled in an exuberant, quirky quest. This book’s whimsical, jaunty language and characterisation make it marvellous for reading aloud. In fact, as you read the dialogue, it’s easy to hear and see the characters in action, replete with tone of voice and physical quirks. Brilliantly bonkers, this perfectly peculiar page-turner comes heartily recommended for fans of Mr Gum and Philip Ardagh.
This first book in the Yin Yangs Odyssey series is a kaleidoscope of emotion and outlandish adventure. Eleven-year-old Freddie isn’t “exactly Mr Popular at the secondary school he attended,” which is no surprise given that his dad is “not only a science teacher but also the new deputy headmaster”. But it’s not long before feeling like an outsider is the least of his problems… When his dad doesn’t return from a trip to Egypt, Freddie is sent deeper into limbo. While left in the care of his tyrannical Nanny Maureen (a woman who reminds him “of that grandmother in George’s Marvellous Medicine), a strange mullet-haired alien being materialises in his room: “It could have easily been mistaken as human, but it wasn’t. The skin was a cold ice blue. Its eyes were twice as big as any man’s and radiated a piercing red.” The alien comes in peace, though and transports Freddie to planet Modeerf where he makes new friends and embarks on a voyage of discovery that might just lead him to work out where his dad has gone. With plenty of high-stakes hijinks and peppered with humour, this is a pacey blend of alien adventure and real-life emotion. Joanne Owen, A LoveReading4Kids Ambassador