The Lost Child’s Quest – Tales of Truth & Treasure Book 1 – by James Haddell

A quest for truth sparks a hunt for a legendary hoard of magical treasures.

I was absolutely thrilled to be sent a copy of this middle grade book prior to publication and to be asked to kick off James Haddell’s blog tour. As a primary school Reading Lead, I am always on the lookout for high quality, high-interest children’s books and this ticks all the boxes! I can’t wait to share it with my class.

When James first contacted me, he described this story as, ‘The first instalment in a series about an orphaned girl, her search for answers about her past, and the adventures this leads her on. Her search for answers ignites with the arrival of a sinister stranger and a move to a new home: Stormhaven Castle, where unravelling mysteries of the past is part of everyday life.’ I was sold immediately! An adventure story with a strong female protagonist and a Castle thrown into the mix? Who wouldn’t be?

From the moment I met Tia Hemyke, I was completely drawn into her story. Tia is an orphan – she knows nothing of her past and her only clues are a collection of mysterious objects that were left with her when she was a baby. Right at the beginning of the story the mood is quiet and thoughtful. We learn that she is about to embark on a new life with Mr and Mrs Trevelyan who are to become her new mum and dad.

Very quickly however, the pace quickens and the story explodes! Within just a few pages, the ‘sinister stranger’ mentioned above bursts on to the scene. Mr Silverman clearly has an ulterior motive for turning up at Mrs Davidson’s home for orphaned girls, and he seems strangely interested in the pendant Tia is wearing around her neck… Tia escapes him, but not before Mr Silverman throws the name ‘Geoffrey Hemyke’ at her, which, as a child desperate to understand her past, understandably sparks Tia’s interest. And this is where the ‘quest’ in the title begins.

Mr and Mrs Trevelyan take Tia to live in the idyllic sounding Stormhaven Castle. We learn that this castle is steeped in history, having ‘been home to warlords, kings, knights and sorcerers… nowadays it is home to a community of archaeologists and historians who are trying to unlock the hidden secrets of its past.’ What better place for Tia to explore her past and her possible link to eminent historian, Geoffrey Hemyke? She learns that he is believed to have unearthed ‘the secret of a long lost medieval hoard of treasure…’ This piques Tia’s interest. Could this hoard of treasure be linked to the mysterious artefacts she was left with as a baby?

Tia has help in her quest from her new sister Meghan and the new friends she makes at Stormhaven Castle School of Exploration and Discovery (I mean, what a name!). Her adventure will turn out to be dangerous and of course, things do not quite go to plan…

James, as a teacher himself, understands how hard it can be to keep children’s interest in a story. The fast pace of this story along with all the twists and turns are bound to keep even the most reluctant reader engaged. There are plenty of opportunities for discussion along the way and James has even included discussion prompts for each chapter at the back of the book.

Lastly, he has expertly combined fiction with historical detail. I had no idea until the end, for example, that several of the artefacts mentioned in the story are real or that The Thirteen Treasures of Britain are a series of items described in late medieval Welsh manuscripts. This level of detail adds a depth to the story that I was not expecting and which is guaranteed to fascinate readers of all ages. I absolutely cannot wait to see where he takes Tia next.

The Lost Child’s Quest – Tales of Truth & Treasure Book 1 – by James Haddell is out on Friday 4th December and can be pre-ordered from Emira Press. It will be available on Amazon from the day of publication.

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.

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.

Inbox, Interviews, Outbox & Wishlist: My book-ish journey for the last week

outbox

In my outbox this week are The Cuckoo’s Calling (Cormoran Strike) by Robert Galbraith / JK Rowling and The Colour of Magic: The First Discworld Novel by Terry Pratchett. I’ve already reviewed the former and I’ll no doubt review the latter in the next few days.

inbox

In my inbox are To Kill A Mockingbird: 50th Anniversary edition by Harper Lee which I started last night and which I’m ashamed to admit I have never read before.

Mockingbird

The blurb says:

‘Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.’

A lawyer’s advice to his children as he defends the real mockingbird of Harper Lee’s classic novel – a black man charged with the rape of a white girl. Through the young eyes of Scout and Jem Finch, Harper Lee explores with exuberant humour the irrationality of adult attitudes to race and class in the Deep South of the thirties. The conscience of a town steeped in prejudice, violence and hypocrisy is pricked by the stamina of one man’s struggle for justice. But the weight of history will only tolerate so much.

To Kill a Mockingbird is a coming-of-age story, an anti-racist novel, a historical drama of the Great Depression and a sublime example of the Southern writing tradition.

The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford which is my Book Club book for the month.

mitfordThe blurb says:

Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love is one of the funniest, sharpest novels about love and growing up ever written.

‘Obsessed with sex!’ said Jassy, ‘there’s nobody so obsessed as you, Linda. Why if I so much as look at a picture you say I’m a pygmalionist.’

In the end we got more information out of a book called Ducks and Duck Breeding.

‘Ducks can only copulate,’ said Linda, after studying this for a while, ‘in running water. Good luck to them.’

Oh, the tedium of waiting to grow up! Longing for love, obsessed with weddings and sex, Linda and her sisters and Cousin Fanny are on the lookout for the perfect lover.

But finding Mr Right is much harder than any of the sisters had thought. Linda must suffer marriage first to a stuffy Tory MP and then to a handsome and humourless communist, before finding real love in war-torn Paris. . .

Burnt Island by Alice Thompson  which has kindly been sent to me by Salt Publishing and which I’m very much looking forward to reading and reviewing.

BurntThe blurb says:

Struggling writer Max Long arrives on Burnt Island to work on his next novel. There he encounters bestselling author James Fairfax, whom Max suspects of not being the real author of the book that has made his fortune Furthermore, Fairfax’s wife has gone missing.

In a desperate bid for success Max decides to compromise his talent by writing a horror bestseller. Recently divorced and increasingly mentally unstable, he witnesses disturbing visions that take the form of the horror he is attempting to write. Is Max losing his mind – or his soul? What is the truth about Fairfax? And what is the secret of Burnt Island? An ironic satire on literary ambition, Alice Thompson’s sixth novel turns into something much darker.

interview-in-progress-600x220

Author interviews I’ve heard this week include…

Jung Chang on her internationally renowned epic novel of Japanese life told through three generations of women – her grandmother, her mother and Jung Chang herself. Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China was published in the early 90’s and is still banned in Japan. It has been on my shelf for some time but at 720 pages needs some considerable time devoted to it.

Julian Barnes on his fictional account of the life of the famous French novelist, Flaubert in Flaubert’s ParrotI enjoyed Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending and already have Arthur & George on my shelf. I enjoyed his interview but it didn’t make me want to rush out and buy this one. Which is a bit odd actually as I studied Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (Wordsworth Classics) for my degree and loved it. Maybe after Arthur & George…

Frederick Forsyth on the action packed The Day Of The Jackal and the films made of the same name since its release 40 years ago. It is a book about a top assassin (The Jackal) and his plan to kill a famous Head of State. Not my normal kind of read but his interview was enough for me to think I should give it a go. The novel was the first of its kind in that Forsythe makes it clear from the very beginning that the assassin is unsuccessful in his attempt and I am intrigued to see how he maintains the suspense and tension as a result.

Isabelle Allende on her multi-generational family drama, The House Of The Spirits. I had never heard of this novel nor the Peruvian novelist before but will certainly be looking out for not only the book but the film that goes with it – check this out: House Of Spirits [1994] [DVD]. It stars Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Winona Ryder, Keanu Reeves, Vanessa Redgrave, Antonio Banderas and my hero, Jeremy Irons. What a cast! From the interview, I gather that this is a novel where the boundaries between reality and spirituality are often blurred.

AS Byatt on her 1990 Booker prize winning novel Possession: A Romance. I have yet to experience Byatt but already have The Children’s Book
on my shelf and having dug into Possession as a result of the interview I heard, this quote was enough for this one to earn a place on my Wishlist:

‘”Literary critics make natural detectives”, says Maud Bailey, heroine of a mystery where the clues lurk in university libraries, old letters and dusty journals’…

I’m ashamed to admit that I’d assumed the author to be male until I heard the interview.

Tracy Chevalier on Girl With a Pearl EarringAlso now a famous film with Scarlett Johansson and another favourite of mine, Colin Firth: Girl With A Pearl Earring [2004] [DVD]This has been on my shelf for ages – I have a feeling it’s my mums copy. Not sure why I’ve not read it yet but I didn’t even know it was based on Chevalier’s interpretation of the painting by Vermeer until I heard this interview.

The hilarious Roddy Doyle on his very famous novel The Commitments. Again a very famous film which I’ve seen many times without realising it was based on a book! The Commitments [1991] [DVD]I remember my mum reading Doyle’s Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha many years ago. I vaguely remember trying it myself and not ‘getting it’ but I think I may have been too young for the humour. I will definitely give him another go.

Anita Desai on her novel Fasting, Feasting. Another new author and novel for me. Anita Desai is an Indian novelist, born in 1937 and living in America. From the sounds of it this novel is a family drama in two halves – part Indian and part American. Definitely one to read.

The amazing, magical, Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho on The Alchemist – 10th Anniversary Edition. Possibly the most life changing book ever written, translated into over 60 languages and which has sold over 30 million copies worldwide. I have read other Coelho but only read the Alchemist all the way through recently. Coelho is said to have magical powers. His writing is other-worldly and The Alchemist is one of the few books I have kept.

Other Wishlist additions

Orange Is the New Black: My Time in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman is the story of a woman who commits a crime and believes she got away with it. Over ten years later however, and living a completely different life, she is caught and sent to prison. This is her true life account of life inside. Now made famous by the series on Netflix.

Tampa by Alissa Nutting is causing waves all over the place. It is the story of a school teacher who is sexually attracted to pre-adolescent school boys and who sets out each year to seduce one of her pupils.

So many books, so little time…

Recent additions to my wishlist…

A selection of books that have caught my eye this week and found their way on to my ever-growing ‘To Read’ list…

The Cuckoo’s Calling (Cormoran Strike)  by Robert Galbraith:

Cuckoo

This was added to my wishlist first thing this morning and if it wasn’t for the fact that today is day 2 of unemployment, I would be reading it already.

Released on 18th April, it was revealed all over the literary press this morning to have actually been written by JK Rowling. It has also received twenty seven 5 star reviews on Amazon and I want to read it NOW.

The description says:

When a troubled model falls to her death from a snow-covered Mayfair balcony, it is assumed that she has committed suicide. However, her brother has his doubts, and calls in private investigator Cormoran Strike to look into the case.

Strike is a war veteran – wounded both physically and psychologically – and his life is in disarray. The case gives him a financial lifeline, but it comes at a personal cost: the more he delves into the young model’s complex world, the darker things get – and the closer he gets to terrible danger . . .

A gripping, elegant mystery steeped in the atmosphere of London – from the hushed streets of Mayfair to the backstreet pubs of the East End to the bustle of Soho – The Cuckoo’s Calling is a remarkable book. Introducing Cormoran Strike, this is a classic crime novel in the tradition of P. D. James and Ruth Rendell, and marks the beginning of a unique series of mysteries.

464 pages.

Kiss Me First by Lottie Moggach:

Kiss Me First

Released in hardcover and kindle on the 4th July this was mentioned in a recent podcast episode and the idea intrigues me.

The description says:

Leila has never met Tess, but she now knows more about Tess than anyone in the world. She’s read all of her emails, researched her past and asked Tess for every detail about her friends and family. Tess has never met Leila. But if she wants to slip away from the world unnoticed, she needs to trust Leila with her life. At first, Leila finds it easy to assume Tess’s identity, and no one has any reason to distrust her. But as Leila is soon to discover, there is much more to a person than the facts and there are things about life you can learn only by living it . . . Original, haunting and utterly gripping, Kiss Me First is an electrifying debut from a phenomenally gifted storyteller.

Which doesn’t sound as intriguing as the synopsis I heard actually. From what I heard on the podcast, Tess wants to commit suicide but doesn’t want to cause pain to her family. She therefore somehow employs Leila to take her place. I can’t get my head around how that would work. So I want to read it!

352 pages.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou:

I know why the caged bird

First released in 1969, this is the first in Angelou’s seven volume autobiography and has never been out of print. I recently heard an old interview with Angelou in which she was asked why she started writing. Her explanation was shocking and has haunted me ever since. She explained that she was raped at the age of 7 by her mother’s boyfriend. She spoke up and the boyfriend was arrested, released but then found dead. In her 7 year old mind, Angelou believed that her voice had the power to kill people and she stopped speaking. Writing became her outlet. I need to know more about this amazing woman.

The description says:

A coming-of-age story that illustrates how strength of character and a love of literature can help overcome racism and trauma. The book begins when three-year-old Maya and her older brother are sent to Stamps, Arkansas, to live with their grandmother and ends when Maya becomes a mother at the age of 17. In the course of Caged Bird, Maya transforms from a victim of racism with an inferiority complex into a self-possessed, dignified young woman capable of responding to prejudice.

320 pages

The Reason I Jump: one boy’s voice from the silence of autism by Naoki Higashida, David Mitchell and Keiko Yoshida:

The Reason I Jump

This was also released in hardcover and on kindle on the 4th July.

The description says:

Composed by a writer still with one foot in childhood, and whose autism was at least as challenging and life-defining as our son’s, THE REASON I JUMP was a revelatory godsend. Reading it felt as if, for the first time, our own son was talking to us about what was happening inside his head.’

Written by Naoki Higashida when he was only thirteen, this remarkable book explains the often baffling behaviour of autistic children and shows the way they think and feel – such as about the people around them, time and beauty, noise, and themselves. Naoki abundantly proves that autistic people do possess imagination, humour and empathy, but also makes clear, with great poignancy, how badly they need our compassion, patience and understanding.

David Mitchell and his wife have translated Naoki’s book so that it might help others dealing with autism, and generally illuminate a little-understood condition. Like The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, it gives us an exceptional chance to enter the mind of another and see the world from a strange and fascinating perspective.

192 pages

The Boy in the Dress  by David Walliams:

The Boy

This is actually Walliams’ first novel originally published in 2008, but it was re-released in paperback on 4th July with a new cover to match the rest of his novels. I absolutely loved Mr Stink and WILL be reading all of Walliam’s work – hopefully to my daughter’s when they are a little older.

The description says:

Dennis was different.

Why was he different, you ask?

Well, a small clue might be in the title of this book…

Charming, surprising and hilarious – The Boy in the Dress is everything you would expect from the co-creator of Little Britain. David Walliams’s beautiful first novel will touch the hearts (and funny bones) of children and adults alike.

240 pages and a snip from Amazon at the moment at £3.85 in paperback or £2.34 on kindle.

Tell Me Who I Am: Sometimes it’s Safer Not to Know by Alex And Marcus Lewis:

Tell Me Who I Am

Also released in hardcover and on kindle on the 4th July, the description put me in mind of SJ Watson’s Before I Sleep which was originally released in April 2011 and which I really enjoyed.

The description says:

Imagine waking up one day to discover that you have forgotten everything about your life. Your only link with the past, your only hope for the future, is your identical twin.

Now imagine, years later, discovering that your twin had not told you the whole truth about your childhood, your family, and the forces that had shaped you. Why the secrets? Why the silences? You have no choice but to begin again.

This has been Alex’s reality: a world where memories are just the stories people tell you, where fact and fiction are impossible to distinguish. With dogged courage he has spent years hunting for the truth about his hidden past and his remarkable family. His quest to understand his true identity has revealed shocking betrayals and a secret tragedy, extraordinary triumph over crippling adversity and, above all, redemption founded on brotherly love.

Marcus his twin brother has sometimes been a reluctant companion on this journey, but for him too it has led to staggering revelations and ultimately the shedding of impossible burdens.

Their story spans continents and eras, from 1950s debutantes and high society in the Home Counties to a remote island in the Pacific and 90s raves. Disturbing, funny, heart-breaking and affirming, Alex and Marcus’s determination to rebuild their lives makes us look afresh at how we choose to tell our stories.

352 pages

Perfect  by Rachel Joyce:

Perfect

Another 4th July hardcover and kindle release. I enjoyed The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and this second novel from Rachel Joyce sounds different and intriguing…

The description says:

In 1972, two seconds were added to time. It was in order to balance clock time with the movement of the earth. Byron Hemming knew this because James Lowe had told him and James was the cleverest boy at school. But how could time change? The steady movement of hands around a clock was as certain as their golden futures.

Then Byron’s mother, late for the school run, makes a devastating mistake. Byron’s perfect world is shattered. Were those two extra seconds to blame? Can what follows ever be set right?

368 pages.

The Sleeper  by Emily Barr:

The Sleeper

Released in paperback and on kindle on the 4th July the cover of this just caught my eye. I’ve never heard of Emily Barr before but I want to read this:

A tense, gripping psychological thriller, with Hitchcockian overtones, perfect for fans of Gillian Flynn’s GONE GIRL and Sophie Hannah.

Lara Finch is living a lie.

Everyone thinks she has a happy life in Cornwall, married to the devoted Sam, but in fact she is desperately bored. When she is offered a new job that involves commuting to London by sleeper train, she meets Guy and starts an illicit affair. But then Lara vanishes from the night train without a trace. Only her friend Iris disbelieves the official version of events, and sets out to find her. For Iris, it is the start of a voyage that will take her further than she’s ever travelled and on to a trail of old crimes and dark secrets. For Lara, it is the end of a journey that started a long time ago. A journey she must finish, before it destroys her…

416 pages.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple:

Bernadette

Originally released on the 7th June 2012, this has just been released in paperback and came highly recommended by one of my favourite book-related podcasts.

The description says:

Bernadette Fox is notorious.

To Elgie Branch, a Microsoft wunderkind, she’s his hilarious, volatile, talented, troubled wife.

To fellow mothers at the school gate, she’s a menace.

To design experts, she’s a revolutionary architect.

And to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, quite simply, mum.

Then Bernadette disappears. And Bee must take a trip to the end of the earth to find her.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette is a compulsively readable, irresistibly written, deeply touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter’s place in the world.

304 pages and only £3.99 on kindle at the moment.

Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead:

Seating Arrangements

Originally released in May 2012 this won the 2012 Dylan Thomas and LA Times First Novel Prize. The paperback has just been released and is another podcast recommendation with a description that sounds perfect for a summer read:

The Van Meters have gathered at their family retreat on the New England island of Waskeke to celebrate the marriage of daughter Daphne to an impeccably appropriate young man. The weekend is full of lobster and champagne, salt air and practiced bonhomie, but long-buried discontent and simmering lust seep through the cracks in the revelry.

Winn Van Meter, father-of-the-bride, has spent his life following the rules of the east coast upper crust, but now, just shy of his sixtieth birthday, he must finally confront his failings, his desires, and his own humanity.

432 pages.