War is Over by David Almond and illustrated by David Litchfield

From the author of Skellig.

‘Outside the dream, the war went on…’

Wow! What a gorgeous, uplifting, sad and poignant book all rolled into one. David Almond wrote this book to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the First World War and he has done an absolutely masterful job. War is Over is aimed at 9-11 year olds but I would extend this to 8-12 at least. It is accessible and engaging – children will love it.

When the story begins, John’s father is away fighting in France and his mum works at the nearby munitions factory – ‘the biggest munitions factory in the world’ – where warships, guns, bombs and shells are made. John can barely remember life before the war and hears about the devastation on a daily basis when fathers of his friends are killed. He realises that he can barely remember what his own father looks like. This first part of the book is quiet and sad. The illustrations are grey, black and cold.

Mr McTavish, John’s Headteacher tells him and the other pupils that they are all at war with Germany – even John – and describes a local man, Gordon, as a coward and a traitor as he refuses to fight. When Gordon is hurt, for refusing to hurt others, and the children hear his screams of pain, the reader gets a glimpse through John’s eyes of just how confusing and barbaric the situation is. John’s questioning, peaceful character is contrasted vividly with that of Alec, who plays at killing Germans and finds the trip to the munitions factory the height of excitement.

There follows an incredible moment. In the nearby woods, John comes face to face with Jan, a German boy from Dusseldorf. He later re-visits Jan in his dreams and finally, writes to him, to explain that he doesn’t feel as though he is at war with him. His letter is found and he is branded a traitor which leads him to ask some very difficult questions of his mum.

I don’t want to spoil the ending, so will just say that it is a very satisfying one. The mood entirely changes and I was left hopeful, perhaps with a little tear in my eye…

‘When the end came, it happened fast.’

Please don’t buy this on kindle – I urge you to go for the hardback or paperback versions, in order to fully appreciate David Litchfield’s stunning illustrations and to allow you to share them with the little people in your life.

I would like to thank both Net Galley and Candlewick Press for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Snap by Belinda Bauer

A story full of drama and secrets to uncover!

The Bright Family. When our story starts, children Jack, Joy and Merry are on a car journey with their mum when their car breaks down on the M5. Eileen leaves the children in the car as she walks to the emergency phone… but she never comes back. After waiting an hour, the children decide to follow her but when they get to the phone, ‘the orange receiver was dangling from the box’…

Three Years Later: Eileen Bright has never been found and, suffering unbearable grief, her husband went out one day for milk and never came back. Jack is fourteen years old and angry. For two years, he has kept the children together, fed them and kept them safe and hidden from the authorities in a house where his sister’s hoarding is out of control. His methods are unconventional and not necessarily legal… Every night, he dreams of finding his mum.

The While Family: Catherine is pregnant. Very pregnant. She and her husband Adam can’t wait to meet their new little bundle of joy. One night when Adam is away, Catherine wakes, convinced that there is someone in the house. Her waking prompts the intruder to leave before he is seen, but he leaves behind a knife and a note. Catherine knows she should call the police, but her decision not to is to have far-reaching consequences…

The Police: DCI Marvel misses the Met and even more than that, urban London. Sergeant Reynolds – IQ 138 – and Marvel do not see eye to eye. Their policing could not be more different – Reynolds does everything ‘by the book’. Marvel believes that sometimes you have to bend the rules to succeed. They are brought together to solve the ‘Goldilocks’ case – a series of more than a hundred burglaries – which will bring them in the path of both the While and Bright families.

“I only snapped once. I’d never do it again.”

Grab a bargain – it’s only £4.99 on kindle at the moment.

I would like to thank both Net Galley and Grove Atlantic for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Nowhere Child by Christian White

‘To move through life without being accountable to a higher power is to drift unanchored through a dark ocean full of monsters’.

This was my first Christian White but it certainly won’t be my last.

Melbourne, Australia, Now: Meet Kim Leamy, photography teacher at Northampton Community TAFE, sister of Amy, daughter of Carol and step-daughter of Dean. Right at the beginning of the story, she is approached by James Finn; he is convinced that Kim is in fact his long lost sister, Sammy Went, who went missing from her Kentucky home, three days after her second birthday, 28 years before. James has never believed Sammy died that night and has spent his life trying to find her – her disappearance is his obsession.

Manson, Kentucky, USA, Then: Jack and Molly Went are members of the Church of the Light Within – ‘Molly through conversion and Jack through blood’. We learn that Jack started to drift away from the church as a teenager and stopped going altogether when their eldest daughter, Emma, was born. As far as the locals are concerned, ‘if you’re not one of us, you’re one of them. A lost soul’. The Pentecostal group worship by handling venomous snakes – to be bitten is to be touched by God, and to survive is to be saved. After Sammy disappears, Jack is devastated but is also harbouring a secret…

The Eckles family: Described as a ‘rough family’. Ava, the mother is a violent drunk. Patrick – the eldest son is doing his best to keep the family together. Travis is gay at a time when this was a sin and was the favourite suspect at the time.

Kim is thrust into James’ investigation and the fundamentalist nature of the locals she meets in Manson, Kentucky. She of course immediately questions why the woman she knew as her ‘mother’ would have kidnapped her from Jack and Molly’s home all those years ago. By this time, Carol Leamy has died from cancer and Kim wants nothing more than to be able to talk to her and ask her what happened. She is upset and shocked when Dean’s reaction shows he knows more than he has ever told her and so she agrees to travel to Kentucky with James to meet her ‘family’. Things do not go as well as she’d hoped. Between her and James, they continue the investigation in order to answer once and for all, what actually happened that day 28 years ago and why?

Whilst certainly not always likeable, the characters are well rounded and believable and the details given of The Church of the Light Within are sickly fascinating. As someone with a phobia of snakes, there were a few scenes that actually made my hands clammy! I think it would make a fantastic film – although I may have to put a cushion over my face at certain parts. A fantastic, absorbing read with SO much going on – I loved it. Highly recommended.

‘Rumour is the one thing that gets thicker when you spread it’.

Only 99p on kindle at the moment – an absolute bargain.

I would like to thank both Net Galley and Harper Collins UK for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Retreat by Mark Edwards

Another rollercoaster of a read from Mark Edwards – this time set in a writer’s retreat in a quiet and secluded part of North Wales. The story flicks back and forth – we have the present day when an eclectic mix of writers of varying levels of literary success come to stay at Nyth Bran in Beddmawr to write, and the past; two years previously when 8 year old Lily goes missing and further back than that to when another child went missing 35 years before her.

Meet Julia, the central character in this story around whom all the other characters pivot. She is Lily’s mum and is clearly haunted by her daughter’s disappearance and her husband’s death – both events that happened on the same day. She has opened The Retreat in an attempt to move on, but it’s proving harder than she anticipated. As far as the superstitious locals are concerned, Lily was taken by The Widow, a local legend who is said to take a child every 35 years, unless one is ‘sacrificed’ to her. According to the police, Lily drowned in the same way her father did when trying to rescue her, but without a body and not one for believing in ghost stories, Julia refuses to accept either version of events. She has kept Lily’s room exactly as she left it and still charges her iPad every two weeks, in the belief that she is still out there and one day, will return.

Lucas is a one-hit-wonder horror writer who has come to stay at The Retreat in an attempt to get his new novel written. Around the same time that Lily went missing, Lucas lost his wife and he and Julia begin to bond over their grief. Before long, strange things start to happen. A new guest arrives – Ursula, who claims to be able to communicate with a Spirit Guide and promises Julia the proof she needs of Lily’s death. Things go missing. People start to die – seemingly naturally and unconnected to one another. Lucas hears child-like singing coming from one of the rooms, and then Zara, a Private Detective hired by Lucas to look in to Lily’s disappearance, goes missing.

The tension builds until an ultimately satisfying conclusion which I am not going to give away! I absolutely loved it from start to finish and for only £3.98 on kindle at the moment (or FREE if you have Kindle Unlimited), it’s an absolute bargain!

I would like to thank both Net Galley and Thomas and Mercer for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

My Sister’s Grave (Tracy Crosswhite #1) by Robert Dugoni

Meet Tracy – ex high school chemistry teacher turned Seattle cop. Tracy is haunted by the disappearance of her sister Sarah 20 years previously – an obsession which ultimately ruined her marriage and which she simply can’t put behind her: “She was a sister unable to get past her guilt and grief.”

Like Tracy, Cedar Grove has never completely recovered from Sarah’s loss. In the intervening years, both her parents have died – her father by suicide – leaving Tracy very much alone in her grief.  As this story starts, Sarah’s remains are found in a shallow grave and Tracy is determined to find out the truth about what happened that day in 1993. A man – House -was convicted of her murder at the time, despite the lack of body, but Tracy has always doubted his part in the crime.

In re-opening the case, Tracy butt heads with Roy Calloway – the man who solved the crime last time and convicted House. A cop for 35 years, Calloway is married to his job and doesn’t take too kindly to Tracy questioning his handling of the case at the time. With the help of Forensics expert, Rosa Giesa, and lawyer Dan, Tracy endeavours to put the case to bed, once and for all.

This story sucked me in straight away. I loved the structure which alternated chapters between present day and the past – it worked really well and I didn’t predict the ending AT ALL! I’m super happy to have discovered it’s the first in a series of seven Tracy Crosswhite books and will definitely be getting the others! Highly recommended.

“It is better that ten guilty men go free than one innocent man be wrongfully convicted.”

Only £3.98 on kindle at the moment or free if you have kindle unlimited.

I would like to thank both Net Galley and Thomas and Mercer for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Little Liar by Lisa Ballantyne

Blurb: The accused

While Nick Dean is enjoying an evening at home with his family, he is blissfully unaware that one of his pupils has just placed an allegation of abuse against him – and that Nick’s imminent arrest will see the start of everything he knows and loves disintegrating around him.

Because, mud sticks, right? No matter if you’re innocent or guilty.

The accuser

When Angela Furness decides that enough is enough – she hates her parents, hates her friends and, most of all, despises what has recently happened at school – she does the only thing she knows will get her attention: calls the police. But Angela is unaware that the shocking story she is about to tell will see her life begin to topple.

Because, once you’ve said what you’ve said, there’s no way back, right? No matter if you’re innocent or guilty.

In a gripping tale of two families torn apart by one catastrophic betrayal, Little Liar illustrates the fine line between guilt and innocence, and shows that everyone has their secrets, even those we ought to trust the most…

Trigger Warnings: Child sexual abuse.

My thoughts: This novel is a bit like looking at a slightly sick picture and being unable to look away. It starts off pretty dark and just gets darker.

When we first meet Angela at age 12, both she and her mother are struggling – it’s a year since her father left (‘he had taken all the warmth with him.’) and the mother-daughter relationship is strained at best, physically abusive at worst. Angela is clearly troubled and battling many unidentified demons;  she is excluded from school for fighting another girl and is being used, physically, by a boy four years her senior. Things get even more serious in ways I won’t spoil, but in a glimpse into her psyche early on, we learn that she has recently put on weight and that she ‘wanted to be massive. She wanted people to turn away when they saw her.’ Ballantyne cleverly scatters little details like this, building the story up little by little until the ultimate conclusion.

Before this story starts, Marina and Nick are happily married with two young children – the ever-questioning Luca and adorable Ava. Nick is an out of work actor who is working as a drama teacher at Angela’s school and Marina is (rather ironically),Director of Child International. Unsurprisingly, their world starts to crumble when Angela accuses Nick of sexually assaulting her at school and Nick learns that he could be facing a 14 year prison term and a lifetime on the Sex Offenders Register. There are plenty of people out there who now want revenge and who will put both Nick and his family at risk to get it. Marina is steadfastly loyal – she stands by her man but the situation calls into question things she would rather not have to face and she has to learn to accept that she may not know Nick quite as well as she’d thought.

Of course things are never quite what they seem. There are so many twists and turns in the narrative, it’s impossible not to keep reading. It’s a coming of age story but more than that, it’s a story of mothers and daughters and how no relationship is unsalvageable.

Be prepared for an absolute rollercoaster of a read and for only £2.99 on kindle at the moment!

I would like to thank both Net Galley and Little, Brown Book Group UK for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Cat Ninja: and a Cabal of Shadows (A Fantastic Tails Adventure Book 2) by Erik DeLeo

Blurb: A missing puppy. An evil gang. And a hidden enemy lurking in the shadows.

She’s a cat. She’s a ninja. She’s a cat ninja. When Miko’s friend Sukoshi the field mouse comes calling with a new job, she agrees to investigate. But when it turns out the job entails helping the family an old enemy, little does Miko know that she’ll need to face her past in order to solve the case before it’s too late.

If you like talking animals, stealthy ninjas, and beating up bad guys, then you’ll love The Cat Ninja. This chapter book deals with many themes including anger, loss, abandonment, and fear. It is perfect for fans of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, Redwall by Brian Jacques and The Green Ember by S.D. Smith, along with other fantasy series including The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander.

Length: 186 pages

Age Level: 8 – 12

My thoughts: Wow. If you were expecting a cutesy animal story, think again! Miko is one kick-ass cat with a kick-ass reputation, complete with a kobachi sword called Amai Fukushu (Sweet Revenge) and a mouse sidekick (because why wouldn’t she?). As a kitten, she witnessed the death of her mother and brother and as a stray living on the streets she was taken in by a Ninja Master – Kobayashi (‘a rare male tortoiseshell’) who taught her all his skills.

Before leaving her safe, Miko’s mum left her with an heirloom – an omamori – which she wears round her neck as a reminder of what she has lost. Since then, Miko has been out for revenge and whilst completing this new job, she comes up against the dog that she believes was responsible for killing her family. With Sukoshi and Kobayashi at her side, she is sure to succeed. But not everything is as it seems…

“Battling yourself is tougher than any fight with a sword”.

Only £2.99 on kindle at the moment.

I would like to thank both Net Galley and Erik DeLeo for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Humber Boy B by Ruth Dugdall (Cate Austin #3)

Blurb: A blur in the sky, a brick no, a trainer falls to the water… There seems to be a scuffle… a hand grabbing at the dangling child. Then, with the awfulness of inevitability, the hanging child drops, gravity takes him.

A child is killed after falling from the Humber Bridge. Despite fleeing the scene, two young brothers are found guilty and sent to prison. Upon their release they are granted one privilege only, their anonymity.

Probation officer Cate Austin is responsible for Humber Boy B’s reintegration into society. But the general public’s anger is steadily growing, and those around her are wondering if the secret of his identity is one he actually deserves to keep.

Cate’s loyalty is challenged when she begins to discover the truth of the crime. She must ask herself if a child is capable of premeditated murder. Or is there a greater evil at play?

My thoughts: I have no idea why I’ve only just picked this one up! It sucked me right in and wouldn’t let go. I read a lot of thrillers but this is the first one I’ve read where the protagonist is a Probation Officer rather than a Detective of some kind – I really enjoyed the unique perspective of Cate and found it refreshing in such a popular genre. I found out after I’d finished it that Ruth Dugdall herself had worked as a Probation Officer which would explain how believable I found the story and the character interactions.

So, meet Cate Austin, whose dream was to be an artist. Instead, she is a single mum to ten year old Amelia and working with the most troubled of people in her professional life. Things aren’t great in her private life either – her dad and her sister disappeared years ago, her mother is an alcoholic and her husband has left and her and started a new family with another woman. At the beginning of this story, Cate is allocated to work with newly released Ben – otherwise known as Humber Boy B  – the brother who has served the longest sentence for the murder of the child in the blurb.

Ben was ten when he was convicted and is now being released at the age of eighteen with a completely new identity. A lot has changed in the time he was imprisoned and he has no real experience of life outside bars. It’s Cate’s job to make the transition a little easier for him. Dugdall shifts viewpoints regularly so that we see events through Cate’s eyes but also through those of Humber Boy B himself. There are shifts in time too, so that as well as the current story, we flashback to the events leading up to and eventually including, that fateful day. Interspersed between chapters, are transcripts from a Facebook page set up by the mother of the boy who died who is trying to trace Ben on his release, simply to be given the chance to ask him why her son died.

Ben’s older brother Adam was also imprisoned for this crime for a much shorter time. He was the most important person in Ben’s childhood as his father figure was often absent and his mother, like Cate’s, is an alcoholic who once told her son that she didn’t love him. Still desperate for a mother’s love though, Ben can’t help but send his mum a card on his release and as a result, Adam and his girlfriend Cheryl, who was present on That Day, come to find him. It’s this that sets in motion the events which drive this story and seeks to answer the big question: What made a child kill a child?

I absolutely loved this story and it certainly kept me guessing. It turns out that there are another three books in this series which is GREAT NEWS! And, even better, this one is only 99p on kindle at the moment – grab yourself a bargain!

I would like to thank both Net Galley and Legends Press for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Wanted! Criminals of the Animal Kingdom by Heather Tekavec, illustrated by Susan Batori

Blurb: A crime wave has hit the animal kingdom, and Detective X is on the case! Meet some of the animal kingdom’s most wanted offenders. Their rap sheets are filled with beastly infractions such as theft, deception and spitting! Yes, spitting! Join Detective X as he investigates thirteen rascally critters and their distinguishing features including their diet, life span, habitat and more. Will the animal kingdom ever be safe again???

My thoughts: This fantastic book educates without the reader even being aware of it! Each double page introduces a ‘criminal’ and gives details of their ‘crime’, for example, the cuckoo who steals other bird’s nests and ‘lets the other mother do all the work to hatch the eggs’, and my absolute favourite, the caterpillar who sticks petals to his body to camouflage himself! How cool is that?

Each animal has a ‘rap sheet’ which gives lots of details on their appearance, distinguishing features, their lifespan, habitat, diet and ‘gang name’ e.g. herd, shoal. The illustrations are absolutely charming and I learned loads too! Did you know that mole rats have hair in their mouths? No , me neither! Or that wood frogs stop their hearts and freeze solid in winter before thawing out in the summer? An absolutely fascinating book which is illustrated beautifully. A real treat for kids (and grown ups!) with an interest in nature, bugs or animals.

I would like to thank both Net Galley and Kids Can Press for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

My Husband’s Lie by Emma Davies

Drew and Thea were inseparable as children when Pevensey was Thea’s family home. As adults, they fell in love, married and now have children of their own. The story begins when Pevensey comes on the market and they decide to buy it in order to give their children the idyllic childhood they both remember so well.

But of course, things do not go quite as well as they hope…  Early on, you realise that there is something the villagers are not saying. There are lots of unfinished sentences and strange looks until eventually, Thea experiences outright hostility from Stacey and Jackie, both of whom remember Thea from childhood.

Thea’s daughter Lauren is drawn to the house and its surroundings just as Thea was as a child, but when Thea discovers an old newspaper clipping detailing a scandal and a letter that she herself wrote 23 years earlier, the tension ratchets up a notch. What really did happen all those years ago and what did it have to do with Thea’s family?

The reader follows Thea’s roller coaster of emotions as she tries to build a relationship with her widowed mother, make peace with the villagers and put the old ghosts to rest, all whilst trying to build a business and support her husband and children. Along the way, Thea and Drew’s marriage comes under strain as she realises that Drew, the one person that she believed was always on her side, has kept secret from her.

A thoroughly enjoyable read which is out on the 9th April. It’s only £1.99 on kindle pre-order which is an absolute bargain!

I would like to thank both Net Galley and Bookouture for providing me with a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.